CONCORD, NH (AP) — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu takes on Democratic Sen. Tom Sherman on Tuesday in his bid to become just the second New Hampshire governor to win a fourth term.
After facing intense pressure to run for the US Senate, Sununu shocked the political establishment last year when he decided instead to seek another two-year term as governor. Saying he was ill-suited to the slow pace of politics in Washington, he argued he could have a bigger and more direct impact as a governor than as a senator.
He easily beat five other Republicans in the Sept. 13 primary, while Sherman was unopposed for his party’s nomination.
Sherman, a doctor from Rye who served two terms in the state Senate, has made abortion rights a central issue in his campaign, criticizing Sununu for signing legislation banning the procedure after 24 weeks of pregnancy. He also accused Sununu of prioritizing his own ambitions over his constituents and caving in to the demands of extremists in the legislature.
“He’s not focused on New Hampshire. He focuses on what extremists want him to do in the Legislature, enacting the first abortion ban in modern history, creating subsidies for private schools while the rest of the state is in trouble,” Sherman said during a recent debate. “He’s taking a victory lap before we even have any plans in place.”
The son of a former governor, Sununu was the country’s youngest senior leader when he took office in 2017 at the age of 42. Now 48, he had a relatively smooth first term when Republicans held legislative majorities, made lavish use of his veto pen when Democrats were in charge in his second term, and easily won a third term after campaigning for his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.
But although Republicans regained control of the Legislature in 2020, the past two years have been more difficult for the governor thanks to the growing influence of the Free State Project, whose libertarian-leaning members have clashed in Sununu. in their quest to severely limit state government. That tension came to a head in August when Sununu inserted himself into a controversy over the Gunstock ski area, pushing back against anti-government activists favoring the privatization of the county-owned facility and calling for the ousting of three Republican colleagues from the Legislature who oversee the station.
Yet polls still showed him ahead of Sherman, with the majority of voters continuing to approve of his professional performance. During the campaign, he argued that his fiscally responsible leadership has allowed the state to thrive, citing corporate tax cuts and other measures that he says have made the state the envy of the nation given its growing population and low rates of poverty and inflation.
“The state is rocking, it really is,” he said during a debate last month. “We have challenges and we are meeting them head on. But at the end of the day, you know, it’s where everyone wants to be.
New Hampshire’s only governor to serve four terms was Democrat John Lynch, who left office in 2012.