Governor Chris Sununu continues to pay the political price for his Executive Council’s vote last week making New Hampshire the only state to oppose accepting $27 million in federal funds to boost vaccinations. The Concord Monitor’s Paul Steinhauser reported that at least two GOP strategists are privately worried that the vote will be a major liability for Republicans, including Sununu, in next year’s midterms. According to NHPR, the anti-vaxxers in the Republican Party pose a “growing political challenge for Gov. Sununu” and have already bitterly divided the Governor from his own base. And the Associated Press wrote that Sununu and his party “have struggled to unify around a common position since the pandemic first emerged” — and that Sununu’s opposition to vaccine requirements has only further isolated him from moderate voters without helping his standing with his increasingly anti-vaccination base. Read more here: Concord Monitor: On The Trail: The Political Fallout From The Vaccine Funding Vote
Yet for the second time in the past five months – following the controversial abortion policy provisions Republican lawmakers added into the state budget – the governor’s own party has given him a major political headache.
Two New Hampshire-based Republican consultants agreed that the vote by the four Republicans on the Executive Council was deeply worrisome. The veteran political strategists told the Monitor that looking ahead to next year’s elections, the rejecting of the federal funds gives the Democrats a political opportunity. They added that it creates a problem for Granite State Republicans and doesn’t make Sununu’s job any easier.
This discord — often inflamed by misinformation and conspiracy theories — is a growing political challenge for Gov. Chris Sununu, as he tries to manage the state’s response and consider his own political future. In his nearly five years in the corner office, Sununu has never clashed with fellow Republicans the way he has now. COVID policy has become the major point of friction between Sununu, who likes to sell his brand of Republicanism as data-driven, and veteran GOP officials, who Sununu spent much of the past few weeks deriding as delusional.
But this was a reversal for a governor who sees his management of the pandemic as a crucial component in his high bipartisan approval ratings. And while anti-government critics have long derided Sununu’s COVID-19 policies as tyrannical. He now has newer antagonists, like GOP Executive Councilor Joe Kenney.
Outside last week’s Executive Council meeting was Don Bolduc, a potential future rival, should Sununu mount a run for U.S. Senate next year. Bolduc, a Republican, is already in that race. And he says he’s pushing to limit Sununu’s agency as governor.
“I ask the legislators in leadership positions: stop giving him the power, take it away from him. Make him work for us, not the other way around,” Bolduc said.
For Sununu, getting it done on COVID-19 policy, at least with some members of his party, is a test, and one that could defy a data-driven approach.
The risk is particularly clear in “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire, where the fight over vaccines has activated the libertarian wing of the GOP. The divisions have the potential to dominate Republican primaries next year.
Republicans in New Hampshire have struggled to unify around a common position since the pandemic first emerged.
Sununu, who is eyeing a run for Senate next year against Democratic U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, joined other Republican leaders in opposing a federal vaccine mandate. But that did little to placate his critics, who repeatedly shouted down fellow Republicans during a press conference last month to protest the federal mandate.