After months of considering his own White House bid and weeks of rumor-fueled speculation about which candidate he would endorse, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu is expected to throw his support to GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley at a town hall event in Manchester tonight.
The news, first reported by WMUR, tracks reports from sources close to Sununu who have said for weeks that he has been leaning toward endorsing the former South Carolina governor. It also matches recent public statements from Sununu about what he was looking for in a GOP nominee.
“Yay!” veteran New Hampshire GOP communications professional Alicia Xanthopoulos told NHJournal. “I think Haley is the GOP alternative. Having the endorsement of an incredibly popular governor, particularly among independents, may get her the attention with them that she needs.”
Sununu’s news comes even as polls show former President Donald Trump’s lead over the rest of the field is larger than ever. A Des Moines Register poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers found 51 percent supporting Trump, while 19 percent back Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and 16 percent backing Haley.
And a new Reuters/Ipsos poll dropped late Monday, giving Trump a 50 percent lead over the rest of the field among Republicans nationwide. Trump has the support of 61 percent of GOP voters, while DeSantis and Haley each had 11 percent.
If Sununu endorses Haley as expected, it will put him at odds with fellow early-state Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, who is backing DeSantis. The division is viewed as a setback to GOP efforts to coalesce around a Trump alternative.
“Reynolds in Iowa, Sununu in New Hampshire — Trump couldn’t have set it up better himself,” one GOP pro told NHJournal.
DeSantis’s New Hampshire team wasn’t surprised by the news, but it wasn’t happy, either.
“A squish endorses a squish — big surprise,” one source close to the campaign told NHJournal. “Ask Congressman Hansel how Sununu’s endorsement worked for him.”
Keene Mayor George Hansel ran for Congress in 2022. He was one of several New Hampshire Republicans who, like state Sen. Chuck Morse, were endorsed by Sununu in their primaries only to lose to more MAGA candidates.
Asked about reports Sununu is endorsing Haley, N.H. House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn), a DeSantis supporter, told NHJournal Tuesday morning, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“Considering the fundamentals of this race and observing the debate performances the last couple of weeks, it is beyond difficult to imagine why he would make that decision,” Osborne said, “Whatever he does decide, the governor has done an exemplary job of campaigning with all of the candidates, especially with the time he has spent with Gov.DeSantis. I really thought the two of them would make a great team.”
Longtime Republican strategist Jim Merrill called the news “the biggest ‘get’ of Haley’s campaign,”
“Chris Sununu is New Hampshire’s most popular and successful governor in a generation, with a proven ability to build broad coalitions of support. His endorsement of Nikki Haley gives her a home run hitter who will be as comfortable promoting her at the Littleton VFW as he will be Sundays on ‘Meet The Press.'”
Asked about Sununu’s endorsement, DeSantis comms director Andrew Romeo pointed to the Hawkeye State.
“What happens in New Hampshire will be significantly impacted by the outcome in Iowa, where the true Trump alternative will emerge. And when Ron DeSantis comes out in that position he will be joined by over 60 New Hampshire state legislators who stand ready to take the fight to the establishment and their candidates of yesteryear to return power to grassroots conservatives,” Romeo said.
Setting aside ideology, Haley has earned high marks for the mechanics of her campaign in New Hampshire. In its weekly update on the state of play in the First in the Nation primary, the Granite State Guru — an aggregator of analysis from a dozen or so campaign pros, pundits, and party insiders — agreed she has run the best Granite State campaign of any candidate — including Trump.
“Haley is not a retail politics natural, but she seems to be breaking through,” said longtime New Hampshire political operative Tom Rath, an outspoken Trump opponent. “She is still very scripted and seems reluctant to really open up against Trump. But the growing feedback from her appearances is universally positive. If anyone has momentum now, it’s Haley. She’s the one to watch.”