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What Sununu's support could mean for Haley's 2024 primary campaign — and his own future

Nikki Haley and Gov Chris Sununu talk to reporters after Sununu endorsed Haley for President Tuesday in Manchester
Josh Rogers
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Gov. Chris Sununu talk to reporters after Sununu endorsed Haley for President Tuesday in Manchester.

Gov. Chis Sununu endorsed Nikki Haley for president Tuesday night during a joint appearance at Manchester’s McIntyre Ski Area. Sununu’s announcement ends a public discernment process that started in June, when the governor abandoned his own potential presidential run.

“It doesn’t get any better than this — to go and get endorsed by the ‘Live Free or Die’ governor is about as rock-solid of an endorsement as we could hope for,” Haley told supporters.

Since the summer, Sununu has repeatedly promised to throw his political weight behind the Republican candidate who he believes is best equipped to derail former President Donald Trump, who he insists “can’t win” in a general election in 2024.

In Haley, Sununu said he sees “an opportunity for New Hampshire to lead this country, for New Hampshire to say we’re not looking in the rearview mirror anymore.”

Sununu’s decision to back Haley, while greeted with plenty of media fanfare, isn’t too surprising. He’d long indicated he’d likely back a current or former governor. This fall, he campaigned alongside several, including Haley (who led South Carolina before joining the Trump Administration as U.N. ambassador), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Sununu has praised each for being a strong leader. But he’s given special credit to Haley for wooing voters in a way that, he says, comports with New Hampshire’s political traditions.

“It’s all about connection,” Sununu told reporters Tuesday. “She’s bringing her truth to it, at a very real level — as a wife, as a mother, as a former governor, as someone who sat in the UN, when international issues are threatening American security every single day.”

How this could shape the presidential race

A strong finish in New Hampshire could be pivotal for Haley’s White House bid.

Recent polling puts Haley in second place in New Hampshire, outpacing every Republican but Trump, who she trails by more than 20 points.

In Iowa, where voters will caucus Jan. 15, polls show Haley now in third place, trailing both Trump and DeSantis, who has focused his campaign there and won the endorsement of Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Sununu’s endorsement, which follows another high-profile boost from the Charles Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity Action, could position Haley to capitalize — or rebound — regardless of where she places in Iowa.

Sununu could also help Haley among a particularly critical bloc of New Hampshire voters: independents, who due to the lack of a high-profile Democratic primary are expected to gravitate toward the Republican contest instead.

Sununu’s popularity with such voters has been critical to his political success. He has never lost an election and is the only Republican to ever win four terms as New Hampshire's chief executive

Still, Sununu’s track record as a political kingmaker is more mixed.

In 2022, the candidates he endorsed for U.S. Senate and the 2nd Congressional District — Chuck Morse and George Hansel — both lost in their Republican primaries to more conservative, Trump-aligned rivals.

The candidate Sununu backed to lead the New Hampshire Republican Party earlier this year also lost.

But in a high turnout Republican primary, Sununu’s popularity should benefit Haley. A poll earlier this fall showed 13% of likely Republican primary voters said that Sununu’s endorsement would affect their vote.

What this means for Sununu

Win or lose, Sununu’s decision to pick Haley could also help him advance his stated mission to steer the GOP-towards a post-Trump future.

By dint of their ages alone — she’s 51, he’s 49 — Haley is a political ally whose support could prove beneficial to Sununu in the long run, whether he again seeks public office or moves into the private sector, where Haley has made millions of dollars sitting on corporate boards and through speaking fees since leaving the Trump Administration.

For now, Sununu has stressed his only goal is to push Republicans towards a credible nominee who can beat Joe Biden and isn’t Trump.

The governor has said he’s determined to follow through on his primary endorsement by going to work for his chosen candidate through campaign stops, speeches and the bully pulpit. But he has also long downplayed the effect political endorsements — even his own — ever have in New Hampshire.

“I’d like to be impactful and help out the best I can,” Sununu said recently. “I don’t think I’m going to sway numbers one way or another.”

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.