MANCHESTER, N.H. – It was an amusing moment on the presidential campaign trail that illustrates how influential a role Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire is playing in the race for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
As he introduced Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley at a New Hampshire GOP summer cookout and fundraiser this week, Sununu repeatedly praised the former two-term South Carolina governor, who later served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in former President Donald Trump’s administration.
But Sununu, who just a few weeks ago announced that he’d pass on his own presidential run, added that he’s not endorsing anyone ‘yet’ in the state’s presidential primary, emphasizing ‘we’ve got a long way to go’ until state’s 2024 nominating contest.
After exchanging a hug, Haley kicked off her comments to the crowd by saying, ‘You’ve got a great governor.’
With a joke that elicited plenty of laughter, she said, ‘Governor, I very much worry about your health. What I’m thinking is, I don’t want you to over-stress. I don’t want you to get out there and do too much. So I think what’s best is, go ahead and endorse me now.’
Haley was kidding about Sununu’s health — but not about hoping to land the popular governor’s support in the state that holds the first primary and second overall contest in the GOP presidential nominating calendar.
She and five other contenders are former or current governors who have all worked alongside of Sununu. They and the six other Republican presidential candidates who are also challenging Trump for the GOP nomination have been calling Sununu, or meeting with him when they’re campaigning in New Hampshire, asking for his advice and suggestions, and maybe even for his support down the road.
‘He’s a great friend. He’s a great governor, and he’s going to be an important person in this primary. And I think that he’s got a lot of knowledge about the people of New Hampshire, and I think he’s got a lot of knowledge of what it takes to win here, so I think he’s going to be incredibly important,’ Haley told Fox News at the NHGOP cookout.
Besides Haley, in recent weeks former Vice President Mike Pence, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, ex-CIA spy and former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas and environmental lawyer and high-profile vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — who’s primary-challenging President Biden for the Democratic nomination — have all met with Sununu. And three other candidates — Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and former Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas — huddled in-person with Sununu earlier this year.
‘Gov. Sununu’s importance in the New Hampshire primary cannot be underestimated. His endorsement and his general being an ambassador for the primary is going to be critically important in 2024,’ longtime New Hampshire Institute of Politics executive director Neil Levesque told Fox News.
Sununu is more modest.
‘I try to be open and helpful to everybody. So, I don’t think I’m the man in demand. I think everyone knows that I’m willing to help and give good advice and guidance in terms of what they’re doing, next steps, who to meet, where to go, how to approach the state.’
Sununu, who’s in his fourth two-year term steering New Hampshire, added in a Fox Digital interview, ‘I do know how to win the state and be successful here, and I’m happy to share any advice I can with all the different candidates.’
‘They ask good advice. They ask good questions. How they should approach the state. How they should approach the voters,’ Sununu said of the Republican presidential contenders. ‘I’m kind of happy to give all the advice we can. I think we know how to do retail politics and retail management here and how it translates to the electorate.’
And he’s giving the candidates good grades at this point, saying, ‘I think so far, they’re doing it the right way. They’re going to the backyard barbeque, and they’re going to the diners to meet people on the citizens’ terms, not on the candidates’ terms, which is what I think defines New Hampshire really apart from everybody else.’
Unlike Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, another popular chief executive who’s playing a similar role in the 2024 GOP nomination race in the first caucus state, Sununu has said he’s open to making an endorsement ahead of the primary.
Asked about his timetable, the governor said, ‘We haven’t even gotten to a debate yet. We’re just getting to see who all the candidates are. A lot of them are still getting in the race as of last week. There’s still a lot to play out in terms of endorsements and where that goes.’
One person Sununu won’t endorse, and who isn’t asking the governor for advice, is former President Donald Trump, who’s the commanding front-runner right now in the Republican race as he makes his third straight White House run.
Sununu has been highly critical of Trump dating back to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters who unsuccessfully tried to prevent congressional certification of President Biden’s 2020 election victory. Sununu has repeatedly predicted that the former president has no chance of winning back his old job in 2024.
As for his own political future, Sununu has yet to announce whether he’ll seek an unprecedented fifth term as governor.
Asked about his timetable to decide on a 2024 re-election run, the governor pointed to his wife, Valerie, and three children and told Fox News, ‘I’ll talk to Valerie and the kids and stuff over the holiday weekend and probably come to some sort of firm and public decision sometime in July, August, something like that.’