For months, Gov. Chris Sununu kept the NHGOP frozen in place as it awaited what many had thought was his certain decision to enter the 2022 U.S. Senate race. Instead, he announced he will seek a fourth term as governor, which sent Granite State Republicans scrambling.
For the first few days, the rumor mill revolved around the “usual suspects” of potential Senate candidates, namely a trio of former U.S. senators. But Kelly Ayotte, Scott Brown, and Judd Gregg all said they’re not entering the race.
Now a new list is emerging — one that is almost certain to grow in the coming days — of potential Republican candidates. NHJournal asked 10 Republican strategists, officeholders, and activists to give their impressions by ranking the possible candidates in order of their strength. We also asked for a comment or two about the would-be contenders.
To foster brutal, intra-party honesty, NHJournal is not disclosing the names of the GOP panelists who participated.
We will be updating this list as events warrant, but here are the first NHJournal GOP Senate Primary Power Rankings:
The NHJournal GOP U.S. Senate Primary Power Rankings
- State Sen. Chuck Morse
- Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith
- Commissioner of Education Frank Edelbut
- Matt Mowers
- Rich Ashooh
- Bill Binnie
- Phil Taub
- Corky Messner
- Tom Moulton
- Jeff Cozzens
- Former congressman Frank Guinta
- Ret. General Don Bolduc
Senator Chuck Morse: Senate President Morse made the top three of all but one of the GOP panelists’ rankings. The consensus is he’s the “safe” pick for New Hampshire Republicans.
On the plus side, “Morse is the most likely to run on the Sununu accomplishments platform, which the polls show is a winner,” one Republican noted. On the less-than-plus side, “every time he has tried to go beyond Salem he flops,” said another. “Highly credible, but not really known outside of Concord and Salem.”
Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith: In what must be a surprise to nearly everyone — including Kevin Smith himself– the Londonderry town manager’s name also appeared near the top of nearly every list.
Smith hasn’t run for office since losing the GOP primary for governor in 2012, which the panelists viewed as both a strength and a weakness: Lower name ID, but also a harder target for the Hassan campaign to hit. “A star just waiting for the right moment to shine. He has a great economic development record. And he scares Democrats,” one panelist said. But another noted that, while “he’s young and ambitious, smart and well-spoken. — what has he done lately?”
Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut: The Commissioner of Education and one-time gubernatorial candidate has made no secret of the fact that he has political ambitions. And as many of the panelists noted, Edelblut would start with the most inspired, motivated base. He would likely own the Trump/conservative lane in a primary, and that’s a pretty big lane.
But, as one panelist asked, “Has he drunk the Kool-Aid? Is it too close to the ReOpenNH crowd?” Another commented: “Edelblut owns the number one issue of the moment — education. But he snuck up on everyone in 2016. That won’t happen again.”
Matt Mowers: Mowers is in the second tier largely because most of the panelists believe he’s going to hold onto his front-runner status in the First Congressional District GOP primary rather than risk a U.S. Senate race. “Unless one of the other candidates catches fire, he has a clear path to win the primary for CD1 and become the next Republican congressman from New Hampshire.”
Rich Ashooh: “People like him, which is why he’s near the top of the list” summarizes one view of Ashooh. “He’s conservative and he gets along with everyone.” But sources inside Trumpworld NH say Ashooh’s a non-starter for some because they believe he was less-than-loyal to the president in whose administration he served. “He worked for Trump, but his instincts are all Warren Rudman. Those days are over for the GOP.”
Bill Binnie: Anyone who can write a check for $25 million to kick-start his campaign is going to be taken seriously. And while the media magnate’s 2010 race may not have gone well (“disastrous,” one panelist calls it), that was 12 years ago. And another added: “He’s got a great story — business built from scratch, a former race car driver, it’s great. But he told it once before and it didn’t work. What’s changed?”
Phil Taub: The most volatile name on the list. Some insiders had him near the very top, others nearly at the bottom. The consensus is his fundraising is appreciated, as is his work on behalf of veterans. But he’s also described as “a moderate who endorsed Jeanne Shaheen in 2014.”
Corky Messner: He’s got millions of dollars in name ID left from his 2020 bid, and he’s been working both hard and smart for the NHGOP since losing to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen last year. However, he did lose badly and the general consensus is being the guy in front of the camera, as opposed to working for the GOP backstage, may not be his skill set.
Tom Moulton (NOTE: On 11/16, Moulton announced he’s not considering a run): He was the University of New Hampshire’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2021 and he owns a successful company, Other than that, most of the political insiders put Moulton down as a TBD.
Jeff Cozzens: Jeff Cozzens got a lot of buzz when he entered the GOP primary for Second Congressional District and Gov. Chris Sununu promptly tweeted out his encouragement for the Littleton brewery owner’s candidacy. There are rumors the governor would be happy to see Cozzens switch and run for the Senate, and strategists say he’s got a great story to tell. But most of the panelists put him in the “wait and see” category.
Former Congressman Frank Guinta: Lots of talk that former Congressman Frank Guinta is looking seriously at a run. Not a lot of talk that it’s a good idea. “A retread who lost his last race while being called a ‘Damned Liar’ on the front page of the Union Leader isn’t the answer,” said one panelist. Another added: “He’s been a D.C. lobbyist since leaving office – you can’t drain the swamp when you’ve planted your roots in it
Ret. General Don Bolduc: Phenomenal bio, horrible candidate. Short an endorsement from Trump — which is always a possibility — Bolduc’s candidacy is already over. Calling the most popular Republican in the state, Gov. Chris Sununu, a “Communist Chinese sympathizer” isn’t widely viewed as a winning strategy. One panelist called him “one of the worst candidates for major office our state has ever seen.” Plus, as one panelist put it, “He already lost to a guy named ‘Corky'”