Two Republicans jump into New Hampshire Senate race, a key battleground state

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Two months after New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu made national headlines by announcing he would run for reelection in 2022 rather than launch a GOP challenge against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, two Republicans are jumping into a race that could potentially decide which party controls the Senate next year.

State Senate President Chuck Morse on Wednesday will file with the Federal Election Commission to create a campaign committee, which will allow the business owner and longtime conservative lawmaker from Salem to begin fundraising in the Senate race. 

And Londonderry town manager Kevin Smith announced on Monday night that he would be stepping down from his position “to formally announce my candidacy for the United States Senate in the not too distant future.”

Senate Republicans need a net gain of just one seat in November’s midterms to win back the majority in the chamber that they lost a year ago, when they were swept in the Jan. 5, 2021, twin runoff elections in Georgia. 

While the GOP is defending 20 of the 34 seats up for grabs this year, including five open seats, they view four Democratic senators in extremely competitive general election battleground states as very vulnerable. And due to her lackluster polling position throughout most of 2021, Hassan is one of the four.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announces he will run for reelection and not seek a seat in the U.S. Senate, Nov. 9, 2021, in Concord, New Hampshire.
(Paul Steinhauser/Fox News Digital)

National Republicans spent much of last year courting Sununu, a well-known and popular governor. But Sununu’s decision in early November to seek another two-year term steering the state rather than challenge Hassan – his predecessor as governor – instantly took what would have been one of the most expensive, competitive and consequential Senate races in the 2022 midterm elections and moved it, at least temporarily, from the A-list to the B-list. 

Morse, a policy-driven conservative lawmaker who owns and runs a lawn and garden center, told Fox News Digital in a statement that “this will be a serious race, and it will take experience and a proven track record to win and take NH’s fight to DC. I obviously believe that I have what it takes to win a statewide race in the state of New Hampshire.”

“I honestly believe that I’ve done a good job in New Hampshire on reducing taxes and growing the economy. Compare that to Washington,” the state Senate president added.

New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse, in a March 2019 photo outside the Statehouse in Concord, New Hampshire. Morse on Wednesday is expected to file paperwork to set up a campaign committee, as he moves toward formally launching a 2022 Republican U.S. Senate run in hopes of challenging Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan.
(Morse Senate campaign)

Morse said he’ll formally launch his campaign later this month. Last week he brought onboard, as his general consultant, New Hampshire-based GOP strategist David Carney, a veteran of numerous Republican presidential, Senate and gubernatorial campaigns.

Carney noted that “this is one of the best pickup opportunities in the nation to defeat a Democrat U.S. senator.” 

He also argued that “Hassan has seemly lost interest in fighting for New Hampshire as her voting record demonstrates she is a lock solid vote for Biden and Schumer and has yet to lift a finger in voting for New Hampshire’s interest over D.C.’s priorities.”

Smith, like Morse, is well known in Republican political circles in New Hampshire. He won election as a state representative and later ran for the 2012 GOP gubernatorial nomination. He also served as executive director of the conservative advocacy group Cornerstone Action and in 2017 was appointed by Sununu as chair of the board of directors at the Pease Development Authority, which oversees expansion and operations at the Pease Tradeport, site of a former Air Force base.

Morse and Smith join retired Gen. Don Bolduc, who until now was the only declared candidate in the Senate GOP primary race. Bolduc, the runner-up for the 2020 GOP Senate nomination who launched his second Senate bid 14 months ago, has struggled with fundraising.

New Hampshire education commission and former gubernatorial candidate Frank Edelblut is also mulling a Senate campaign, as are investment and media executive and 2010 Senate candidate Bill Binnie, and former U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta.

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In an email titled “Bring in the B Team: NH’s GOP Senate Primary Gets Messy,” the New Hampshire Democratic Party argued that the “Republican Primary will only get more chaotic, more messy, and more extreme.”

While some top Republican strategists in Washington called the decision by Sununu “a huge disappointment,” the National Republican Senatorial Committee still views Hassan as vulnerable next year with the right candidate.

Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan makes a stop in the northern New Hampshire city of Berlin on April 7, 2021. The former governor and first term senator is running for reelection in 2022.
(Maggie Hassan reelection campaign)

The senator and fellow Democrats face historical headwinds in the 2022 elections, as the party that controls the White House traditionally suffers setbacks in the ensuing midterms. To make matters worse, Democrats across the country will have a deal with an unfavorable political environment that’s compounded by President Biden’s underwater approval ratings.

“Maybe there will be a big rebound for President Joe Biden, but if he doesn’t bounce back politically, will Hassan be able to set herself apart from the president?” asked veteran Granite State based political scientist Dante Scala. 

“Unless the political environment improves for Democrats, it may not take an A candidate to beat Hassan,” Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, added.

But ousting Hassan in November won’t be easy, as she has a history of winning tough elections.

Hassan, as a first term governor in 2014, won reelection during another cycle that was horrendous for Democrats, and she came out on top in a blockbuster battle with then-Sen. Kelly Ayotte in 2016. 

And Hassan’s continuing to haul in campaign cash.

The senator’s campaign committee announced last week that it brought in $3.1 million October-December fourth quarter of fundraising, with $5.3 million cash on hand as of the end of 2021. Hassan’s raised $14.4 million to date for the entire election cycle.

But the senator’s also spent $9.1 million over the past year. Even with Sununu deciding against challenging the senator, Hassan continues to shell out big bucks to run campaign commercials on TV and online.

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