New Hampshire politics have been in the national spotlight since the Executive Council vote against family planning funding for Planned Parenthood centers earlier this month– and not in a good way.
Anti-vax protests, the limit on late-term abortions, and questionable comments from legislators like Rep. Ken Weyler have painted a media target on the Granite State. Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen likened the state to Texas and its new restrictive abortion laws, and comic John Oliver recently called New Hampshire, “Florida with foliage.”
Granite State Democrats have seized on a simple strategy: Tie popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to every embarrassing story created by the far Right.
That strategy hit “eleven” on Wednesday when Democrats blamed Sununu for anti-vax protesters who shut down an Executive Council meeting to prevent voting on federal vaccine contracts the governor supports.
At the same time, Democrats were declaring Sununu the leader of the protest, the protesters themselves were attacking him for being a lackey of the Deep State.
“Sununu’s price to sell New Hampshire’s state sovereignty to the Biden administration is apparently about $27 million,” RebuildNH leader Rep. Melissa Blasek told NHJournal.
In politics, the facts are often an afterthought. What matters is results.
Democrats obviously believe the more they tie Sununu to GOP extremism, the better their odds of holding on to Sen. Maggie Hassan’s seat if he challenges her next year.
But can the “Sununu’s a GOP crazy” strategy work when, every time there’s an incident of what they consider far-right extremism, Sununu’s condemning it, too?
Veteran New England GOP strategist Pat Griffin agrees with Democrats that the anti-vax extremism is putting a potentially good political year at risk.
“The idiots who showed up and behaved in the manner they did at the council meeting are poisoning a mid-term general election that should favor the GOP. It’s insanity,” he said. “Lefty socialists led by an incompetent, cognitively-compromised president are ripe for defeat in 2022, but Trump extremists are doing their level best to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
But, Griffin added, “Sununu is the GOP candidate who can thread the needle by holding onto the base, attracting Independents and making the case for change from any and all things Biden/Hassan.”
Another NHGOP source, who asked not to be named, said the spectacle at Wednesday’s canceled meeting further hurts the state GOP after weeks of negative national press.
“I mean, shutting down the event really doesn’t help anyone,” the source said, before adding that the comparisons could benefit Sununu.
“If he’s looking to appear as a moderate, having the Free State guys shutting down the Executive Council could let him say, ‘See, they don’t like what I’m doing, either.’ But that’s a fine line to toe,” the source said.
And that’s the risk Democrats are taking. New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley spent four years (and millions of ad dollars) on the message “Sununu = Trump.” The next result was two successful re-election bids — the last by more than 30 points — and losing the legislature thanks in part to Sununu’s popularity. Even as Trump was losing the state by eight points.
Democrats have been hitting Sununu hard on abortion, insisting he’s secretly a Texas Republican who supports a total abortion ban.
Once again, the problem is Sununu’s position — no restrictions on abortion for the first six months — is the view of a majority of Americans. The Democrats’ abortion-on-demand-until-birth policy is the extreme. The more Democrats bring it up, the more he gets to say, “I would never support the Texas law. I’m like most pro-choice voters who oppose late-term abortions.”
Longtime GOP strategist Dave Carney isn’t worried about the Democrats’ attacks on Sununu.
“New Hampshire and the nation are divided on the vaccine mandate issue, and antics like [the Executive Council protest] hurt the messaging the protesters are trying to deliver,” he said. “The anger over the Biden mandates should be 100 percent focused on the federal delegation, who are voting to increase federal fines on businesses that fail to enforce mandates to $700,000.”
Another unnamed Republican strategist said both Republicans and Democrats are misreading the current political climate.
“First, Republican leaders haven’t figured out how to harness the grassroots that are currently extremely energized. Second, Democrats will stop at nothing to overplay their hand to try to tie every genuine display of activism into a replay of Jan 6.
“The bottom line is that no one is going to move the needle politically from this, but it amplifies the grassroots, which means that Friday’s Fiscal Committee meeting should be a doozy,” the strategist said.
Beyond Friday, the big question is this: Will Democrats’ attacks on GOP “extremism” damage the GOP brand so much that swing voters will reject Sununu rather than vote Republican?
Or will they just remind these suburbanites that, like Sen. Susan Collins, Gov. Phil Scott, and the gone-but-not-forgotten Sen. John McCain, New England has a soft spot for moderate Republicans who buck the national party?