It was the tweet seen across the Granite State.
Friday morning, just two days after Gov. Chris Sununu’s crushing 30-point victory over state Sen. Dan Feltes, the governor’s campaign manager Paul Collins tweeted:
“Hey, Senator Hassan, what is it like serving in the United States Senate these days? Asking for a friend. #NHPolitics.
Within minutes of its posting, NH political circles were abuzz.
Was Sununu signaling plans to run for U.S. Senate in 2022, when Sen. Hassan’s first-term ends? Was his camp playing political head games with NH Democrats still nursing wounds after losing the Executive Council, state Senate, and House of Representatives — despite Joe Biden’s eight-point win at the top of the ticket?
Or was this a GOP operative mocking a Democratic senator over her party’s apparent failure to win control of the Senate?
Whatever the motive, if Collins was looking for attention, he got it. Twitter lit up with commentary from both sides. (“We’re F—ed” tweeted one progressive). NHGOP activists and insiders immediately began speculating about what the tweet meant (“Paul would never send something like that without Sununu’s permission,” one NHGOP operative told NHJournal).
Two high-profile NHGOPers told NHJournal they were so surprised by the tweet they thought Collins’ account had been hacked.
Democrats responded with annoyance.
“Chris Sununu already indicating his focus will not be on addressing massive deficit, Covid surge and other state problems but rather on running against Maggie Hassan in 2022,” longtime Democratic activist Judy Reardon tweeted in response.
One NHGOP insider speculated Sununu was sending a message to potential 2022 GOP candidates like former NH-01 candidate Eddie Edwards, retired Gen. Don Bolduc and businessman Jay Lucas to “cool their jets.”
“It won’t hurt Sununu’s fundraising either,” the party insider observed.
But the most interesting possible motive for the Twitter snark could also be the most basic: Revenge.
During Feltes’ failed gubernatorial campaign, Sen. Hassan made some tough attacks on Sununu, particularly on abortion. She joined Feltes for a press call slamming Sununu, and she sent a campaign email targeting the Republican.
“Governor Chris Sununu has spent the last four years undoing the progress we worked so hard for and vetoing a record number of bills,” Hassan wrote. “Sununu voted to defund Planned Parenthood, attacked access to affordable health care, vetoed an increase in the minimum wage, and called himself a ‘Trump guy through and through.'”
Endorsing Feltes was no surprise, but many in N.H. politics raised an eyebrow over her willingness to go after Sununu so hard. Is that why Collins sent the tweet?
When asked about that possible connection, a source close to the Sununu campaign told NHJournal, “The lies didn’t go unnoticed.”
Sean Trende, senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics, told NHJournal a Hassan-Sununu race “would be a marquee matchup between the popular former governor of the state and popular current governor of the state. An absolute bloodbath that would probably be decided by the national environment, similar to Ayotte-Hassan six years ago.”
Hassan’s seat is already on the GOP’s radar as a possible 2022 pick up, given her extremely narrow win (just 1,017 votes) and an approval rating hovering around 50 percent.
“Sununu’s a Republican who just carried Concord, Dover and Keene,” one NHGOP official told NHJournal. “Of course Democrats are scared.”