Sans Sununu, New Hampshire Republican Candidates Still in Favorable Position

By Jim Ellis

US Senate candidate Corky Messner (R) | Photo by Amanda Blundo, Corky for Senate Campaign

Dec. 6, 2021 — A new Tarrance Group poll of the New Hampshire general electorate conducted for potential US Senate candidate Corky Messner (R) shows the Republicans in a favorable position to challenge Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) even without Gov. Chris Sununu (R) as her opponent.

The survey (Nov. 14-17; 500 likely 2022 New Hampshire general election voters, live interview) finds Messner lagging only two points behind the first-term senator, 47-45 percent. This type of ballot test result shows a weaker standing for the Republican nominee than when Gov. Sununu was paired with Hassan — in virtually every poll during the past year, the governor was leading — but a lesser known candidate’s support figure lying within the polling margin of error is certainly a positive sign for Republican chances.

Digging deeper into the poll, we find positives for both candidates. Sen. Hassan’s job approval rating is in positive territory at 50:45 percent, with a personal favorability index of 48:44 percent. Though her numbers are not stellar, considering the generic question (would you vote for a Republican or Democrat for US Senate) actually favored the GOP by a 45-42 percent count, her standing is at least stable within the context of what, for her, is an adverse political climate. Typically, the Democrats almost always lead on the generic question.

Perhaps the biggest positive for Messner from this data revolves around a ballot test within the cell group of respondents who are familiar with both candidates. This is a particularly large cell, since 74 percent of the sample participants expressed knowledge of both contenders. In looking at the ballot test figures within just this group, Messner forges into the lead, 50-43 percent.

Assuming the electorate at large would also behave in such a manner upon gaining adequate familiarity with both candidates, such a finding would be highly significant and reinforces the analysis that New Hampshire remains the Republicans’ strongest conversion opportunity.

Messner has not yet announced for the Senate, only saying he is considering becoming a candidate. He was the party’s 2020 Senate nominee, losing to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D), 57-41 percent, with the senator outspending Messner, $17 million to $7 million.

Since Gov. Sununu announced he would not run for the Senate, no new contender has yet formally come forward to declare a candidacy. Time, however, is not an issue. New Hampshire has one of the latest primaries in the nation, since the voters won’t choose their partisan nominees until Sept. 13 and candidate filing doesn’t close until June 10.

Several people are mentioned as potential Republican candidates. Aside from Messner, state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut; former congressman, Frank Guinta; state Senate President Chuck Morse; and 2020 1st District Congressional candidate Matt Mowers have all been discussed as credible opponents for Sen. Hassan.

Perhaps the most likely to join the field is Edelblut. A former state representative, he challenged Sununu in the open 2016 governor’s race. Edelblut would lose the Republican primary to Sununu by just a 32-31 percent count, but immediately endorsed the future governor a day after the nomination election concluded. After his election, Gov. Sununu would appoint Edelblut as state’s education commissioner, a position he continues to hold.

At this point, seeing a Messner-Edelblut Republican primary campaign, among other minor contenders, is certainly within the realm of possibility. It is unlikely that Guinta, who had lost two congressional races as an incumbent, will run, while Mowers continues to say he plans to stay in the 1st District congressional race.

With few Democratic conversion targets available on the 2022 Senate political board, Republicans must run a strong challenge campaign against Sen. Hassan if they are to have any hope of gaining the net one seat they need to clinch an outright majority. According to this Tarrance Group poll, New Hampshire should keep its status as the Republicans’ top 2022 senatorial target.

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