CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu faces Democratic state Sen. Tom Sherman on Tuesday in his bid to become only the second New Hampshire governor to win a fourth term.
After facing intense pressure to run for U.S. Senate, Sununu shocked the political establishment last year when he instead decided to seek another two-year term as governor. Saying he was ill suited to the slow speed of politics in Washington, he argued he could have a bigger and more direct impact as governor than as a senator.
He easily defeated five other Republicans in the Sept. 13 primary, while Sherman was unopposed for his party’s nomination.
Sherman, a physician from Rye who has served two terms in the state Senate, made abortion rights a central issue of his campaign, criticizing Sununu for signing a law banning the procedure after 24 weeks of pregnancy. He also accused Sununu of prioritizing his own ambitions over his constituents and caving to the demands of extremists in the Legislature.
“He’s not focused on New Hampshire. He’s focused on what the extremists want him to do in the Legislature, putting in place the first abortion ban in modern history, creating subsidies for private schools while the rest of the state is struggling,” Sherman said during a recent debate. “He’s taking a victory lap before we even have plans in place.”
The son of a former governor, Sununu was the youngest top executive in the country when he took office in 2017 at age 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 control during his second, and easily won a third term after campaigning on his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.
But though Republicans won back control of the Legislature in 2020, the last two years were rockier for the governor thanks to the growing influence of the Free State Project, whose libertarian-leaning members clashed with Sununu in their quest to severely limit state government. That tension came to a head in August when Sununu inserted himself into a controversy at the Gunstock ski area, pushing back against anti-government activists who favor privatizing the county-owned facility and calling for the ouster of three fellow Republicans from the Legislature who oversee the resort.
Still, polls have consistently shown him ahead of Sherman, with a majority of voters continuing to approve of his job performance. During the campaign, he has argued his fiscally responsible leadership has allowed the state to flourish, citing business tax cuts and other measures he said have made the state the envy of the nation given its growing population and low poverty and inflation rates.
“The state’s rockin’ it, it really is,” he said during a debate last month. “We have challenges, and we take them head on. But at the end of the day, you know, this is the place everybody wants to be.”
The only New Hampshire governor to serve four terms was Democrat John Lynch, who left office in 2012.