Gov. Chris Sununu didn’t waste any time Tuesday night making it official.
As soon as he took the stage in Manchester at a town hall campaign event, he told the crowd about encountering a “sweet older woman” who stopped him and asked, “So, are you finally going to endorse Nikki Haley?”
“You bet your a** I am!” Sununu exclaimed as the crowd broke into applause. “We’re all in for Nikki Haley!”
Sununu used his brief time onstage to preview what Granite State voters — and perhaps just as important, reporters covering the First in the Nation primary — can expect over the next 40 days: Energy, enthusiasm, and a clearly articulated case for Republicans to take a pass on former President Donald Trump and pick Nikki Haley.
“The rest of the country is looking to New Hampshire,” Sununu told the 200 or so people who packed the McIntyre Ski Area facility. “We always take pride. We never choose yesterday’s news.”
As for the possibility of a Biden vs. Trump 2024 general election, Sununu was dismissive.
“We have a president that’s more concerned about his nap time and a [former] president that’s worried about his jail time.”
Trump’s time is over, Sununu argued. “We’re not going to…bring somebody forward who is constantly distracted with whatever nonsense and drama that the former president brings to the table; that would be irresponsible on our part. And New Hampshire is where it all starts.
“We have independents who are going to vote here. We have the undeclared; we have the Republican base. Everybody’s going to come out in record numbers. This is not a campaign. This is a movement,” Sununu said to cheers.
Haley appeared to be energized by the endorsement as well.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” she said. “To get endorsed by the ‘Live Free or Die’ governor is about as rock-solid of an endorsement as we could hope for. I think we need to be a ‘Live Free or Die’ country, but we’ve got some work to do.”
At a press conference after the event, NHJournal asked Haley about the possibility of a Haley-Sununu ticket. She said she liked the idea, but Sununu said it was a “hard pass” from him.
“I think he is fantastic, but he has told me he doesn’t want anything to do with VP,” she said.
During her remarks, Haley gave her familiar, biography-based stump speech. As she has done throughout the campaign, even after receiving the endorsement of the libertarian-leaning Americans For Prosperity, she continued her support for funding Ukraine’s war against Russian invaders. But she also added Israel and the Oct. 7 Hamas attack to her remarks.
“When we think of what’s happening in Israel, God help us if we don’t get this right,” Haley said.
“Think about what happened on Oct. 7 when they beheaded those people and burned those babies alive and raped those girls at the concert and dragged their naked bodies through the streets of Gaza. What did [the terrorists] shout? ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Death to America.’
“It has never been that Israel needs America. It has always been that America needs Israel,” Haley added. “They are the tip of the spear when it comes to defeating terrorism.”
During the Q&A part of the town hall, one woman inspired gasps when she referenced polls showing Trump continues to hold a significant lead and asked Haley if she would consider being his vice president. Haley told the crowd to relax.
“It’s not that big of a deal of a question,” Haley said.
As for being Trump’s running mate, Haley didn’t issue a Shermanesque rejection. But said she wasn’t interested. “I don’t play for a second.”
And rather than dodge the polls, Haley attempted to turn them on Trump.
“Let’s talk about these national polls,” Haley said. “In almost all of the national polls, Donald Trump and Joe Biden are head to head. On a good day, Trump is up two or four points. In The Wall Street Journal, he was up four points. In those same polls in The Wall Street Journal, I defeat Joe Biden by 17 points. Do you know what a 17-point win means? That means we win governorships. That means we win House seats.
“With a 17-point win, we can finally say, ‘Yes, we are going to close our border once and for all. With a 17-point win, America becomes a ‘Live Free or Die’ country,” Haley added.
The audience seemed to like what it heard. Kathleen from Hampton (she declined to give her last name) said she was backing Haley because “She’s smart, she’s sensible, and she’s not divisive. I’m ready for less chaos.”
“I’ve never put a sign in my yard before,” said John Weber of Bedford, N.H., as he picked up a Haley placard outside. Asked why he was backing Haley, Weber said, “I watched her in the debates. She’s smart, she’s cool, and she doesn’t get rattled when people attack her. And the choice between Biden and Trump is a non-choice.”
His wife, Dina, added, “With a big country like this, I can’t believe these are the choices we have.”
Sununu said New Hampshire can give the nation more choices by launching Haley’s candidacy and creating a two-person race. In fact, Sununu told reporters, the campaign is already there. “It’s Nikki Haley and Donald Trump–that’s it.”
The other candidates still in the race begged to differ.
“This puts us down one vote in New Hampshire, and when Gov. Christie is back in Londonderry [Wednesday], he’ll continue to tell the unvarnished truth about Donald Trump and earn that one missing vote and thousands more,” said Christie spokesperson Karl Rickett.
Asked about Sununu’s endorsement on CNN, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “Chris is a good guy, he’s done a good job. But even a campaigner as good as Chris isn’t going to be able to paper over Nikki being an establishment candidate.”
His campaign spokesman, Andrew Romeo, said the New Hampshire campaign “will be significantly impacted by the outcome in Iowa, where the true Trump alternative will emerge.”
DeSantis is scheduled to campaign in New Hampshire on Friday.
On Thursday, Trump will hold a rally on the University of New Hampshire campus. His supporters dismiss Haley and Sununu as “RINOS.” (Republicans In Name Only).
“Gov. Sununu lost the trust of Republicans in this state long ago when he repeatedly disrespected President Trump and called his fellow Republicans’ extremists,’” said Londonderry business owner and Trump supporter Thomas Estey. “The Democrats are the extremists, and Sununu might as well go be one of them.”
Sununu insisted Haley can change the trajectory of the campaign and he planned to work hard for her across the state.
“People are excited, not because it’s a Nikki Haley and Gov. Sununu. Nikki connects with folks at a very real level. I’ve done with with all the other candidates, and they do fine. But there’s something different about her connection with the voters. And that’s the most important aspect about getting people excited and galvanizing the party.”