New Hampshire Governor’s Path to the Presidency: Iowa

Chris Sununu doesn’t think Trump can win a general election. "He doesn't really have his fastball anymore,” Sununu told the Messenger.


CONCORD, N.H. - Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said of all the Republican presidential candidates who have announced so far, most have a chance of winning the general election – except for former President Donald Trump. 

If Sununu doesn’t run for president, he plans to endorse early and campaign for his preferred candidate often. He has ruled out supporting Trump.

“They’d better be a leader that can get stuff done,” he said. “That’s my metric.”

Sununu, 48, is deep into considerations for a presidential run, saying he is weeks away from a decision. He has won the governor’s race four times in a row, including once by almost 32 points. But recent polling indicates he faces a stiff challenge from Trump even among Republican primary voters who have supported Sununu for most of the last decade. He recognizes it will take more than being a native Granite Stater to win the primary.

“I know I could obviously do very well in New Hampshire,” Sununu said about his home state, which holds the second nominating contest and the first official primary of the presidential primary. “But I would need to do very well in Iowa, and I think there's a huge path to doing that — a strategy a little different than what other folks have thought of before but there’s an amazing opportunity.” 

Sununu’s strategy relies on Republican moderates

In a wide-ranging telephone interview on his way to Reagan National Airport after a 12-hour trip to Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Sununu outlined the internal strategy for a potential presidential campaign in the greatest depth yet. 

The focus would be on moderate Republicans and independents who don’t traditionally participate in Iowa caucuses. Sununu, who is known for his analytical management style, quickly rattled off the logistics he’s working on as part of his potential 2024 bid: the complexity of gathering signatures to get his name on state ballots, meeting polling thresholds for national debates, and establishing a national donor base. 

His deadline for a decision is mid-June.

Sununu as a primary kingmaker

That urge to take on Trump includes helping those he may be running against. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley stopped by Sununu’s office in the statehouse last month. He met with businessman Vivek Ramaswamy recently and speaks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott frequently. He calls former Vice President Mike Pence a “great friend.” 

But he feels a growing frustration with the early candidates who are “clogging up the works,” putting voters in early states at a disadvantage from a cacophony of voices. 

“What’s the path? Are we getting into this to get on a debate stage and just talk about ourselves?” he said. “I think there are a lot of folks who are OK with doing that, and just almost running for vice president knowing there’s no path to victory.”

Trump dominates the early race in New Hampshire

A poll last month conducted by the Saint Anslem College Survey Center showed Trump leading with 42% of registered Republican New Hampshire primary voters, followed by DeSantis with 29% and Sununu with 14%. 

“Once (Sununu) says he’s running for president, I think that number goes way up,” said Neil Levesque, who directs the polling center. 

Yet Trump honed in on those results during his most recent rally in Manchester, the state’s largest city.

"Sadly, your Governor Sununu doesn't register," Trump said to loud boos from members of the audience, including from some of those who later said in interviews they voted for Sununu. "Isn't he a nasty guy?"

Sununu is unfazed. 

“Oh, God, who cares? Are you kidding? Please, I'm from New England,” he said. “He’s trying to be fun, cute, I don't know, whatever you want to call it.

For Sununu, a pro-choice centrist, he sees winning the general election as the easy part. But his lane for a victory in the primary will be drawing enough moderate Republicans into the process. 

“Winning the general election is the least of my concerns,” he said. “That I could do very easily. There's no question. But winning the primaries is a much harder, much more contentious issue.

And at the heart of that is taking on Trump’s bombastic style wherever he can.

“I feel very confident about what I could do on a debate stage,” he said. “I can see Trump coming a mile away. I know how to debate him and his issues. He's clearly a weaker candidate than he ever has been. He doesn't really have his fastball anymore. He's always on the defensive.”

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