By John Celock
While New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) continues to debate whether to seek a third term or run for the U.S. Senate next year, a new poll shows that she’d easily win reelection.
A Public Policy Poll released last week shows Hassan leading two potential Republican challengers in next year’s gubernatorial race. Hassan, a two-term governor, is being heavily courted by national Democrats to take on one-term U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) in next year’s Senate race. Polling indicates that a Ayotte/Hassan Senate battle would be one of the most competitive in the country next year. Hassan has said that she will make a final decision between the Senate or governor after a budget battle with the Republican-controlled state Legislature is completed.
The poll indicated that Hassan would defeat Executive Councilor Chris Sununu 48 percent to 42 percent and state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley 48 percent to 39 percent in a gubernatorial battle. The poll also indicated that both Sununu and Bradley would defeat three other Democrats for the governorship in the event Hassan does not seek a third two-year term next year.
The poll showed that Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern and former state House Speaker Terrie Norelli would trail the two Republicans with Pappas, the highest ranking openly gay elected official in New Hampshire history doing the best. Pappas, whose family owns the well known Puritan Backroom restaurant in Manchester, trails Sununu by four and Bradley by five. Norelli, a former president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, trails Sununu by five and Bradley by six. Van Ostern trails Sununu and Bradley by seven.
The poll also indicated that both Republicans had higher name recognition than the three Democrats who could potentially replace Hassan as the party’s nominee for governor. Sununu, who is in his second term on the Executive Council, is the son of former Gov. John Sununu (R) and the brother of former U.S. Sen. John Sununu (R). Bradley served two terms in Congress before becoming a state senator in 2009.
Sununu, Pappas and Van Ostern have formed a younger majority on the Executive Council, a state agency chaired by the governor which approves various contracts, transportation plans and gubernatorial appointments. All three have long been mentioned as likely contenders for higher office including the governorship and Congress. Pappas and Van Ostern have also been mentioned as potential Senate candidates if Hassan decides not to challenge Ayotte.
Norelli, who led the 400-member state House of Representatives on two occasions, has made a name for herself as a leading spokeswoman against tea party-aligned Republicans who have dominated the state Legislature in recent years.
If he were to run and win the governorship, Pappas would become the first openly gay elected governor in American history. Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) announced that he was gay at the same 2004 press conference where he announced his resignation. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), who succeeded to the office earlier this year, is the nation’s first openly bisexual governor.
Norelli would become the fourth female governor in New Hampshire’s history following Hassan and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, now a U.S. senator, who were both elected to the office and Republican Vesta Roy, a state Senate president who served as governor for a week in between the death of Gov. Hugh Gallen in December 1982 and the inauguration of Gov.-elect John Sununu in January 1983.
Democrats have controlled the Granite State’s governorship since 2004 when former Gov. John Lynch (D) unseated former Gov. Craig Branson (R). Hassan succeeded Lynch in 2013, after Lynch declined to seek a fifth two-year term.