Gov. Chris Sununu’s retirement creates wide-open governor’s race in 2024
The race is expected to be one of next year’s most closely watched and highly contested gubernatorial elections.
Pictured Left: Chris Sununu, Top: Joyce Craig, Bottom: Cinde Warmington
On July 19, the 2024 New Hampshire gubernatorial election became an open race following Gov. Chris Sununu’s announcement that he would not seek a fifth term in office. Next November’s election, which analysts widely consider to be a toss-up, is expected to be one of the most competitive governor’s races in the country.
The GOP primary field has widened in recent days since Sununu, a Republican, made his retirement plans public. Minutes after Sununu’s announcement, former New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse declared his candidacy in a tweet. On July 24 — less than a week later — former Sen. Kelly Ayotte also joined the race.
State Rep. Ross Berry, R-Hillsborough, said Sununu’s reputation as a “well-liked” chief executive will force Republicans to find a candidate who they can similarly “build their reputation and image around.”
“That’s why I feel good about our chances,” Berry said. “Because I look at our candidates and I look at [the Democrats’] candidates.”
Berry said while either Morse or Ayotte “would make an excellent governor,” he ultimately endorsed Ayotte, citing their past work together and their alignment on a variety of domestic and economic policy points — namely crime.
“A number one target of hers is going to be ending cashless bail, which is something that I had campaigned on for two cycles,” Berry said.
On the Democratic side, the primary field has remained the same since June. Two candidates — Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington and Joyce Craig, the Mayor of Manchester — each announced their bids last month.
In the general election, Berry said Warmington would be “the tougher candidate to beat” because her public persona is not as well defined as compared to Craig’s. Voters’ view of Manchester in recent years has made it so that Joyce Craig “is defined by” the city’s substandard public education system, Berry added.
“You don’t have to educate voters on the state of Manchester,” Berry said. “They see it every night on the nightly news.”
Democratic state Sen. Sue Prentiss said she endorsed Warmington as a result of her positions on abortion and disaster preparedness, among other issues, and their close political connection. Most of Warmington’s Executive Council district covers much of the same area as Prentiss’s own state Senate district, she added.
“There’s been no distance in terms of making sure we have a coordinated approach and are talking to each other,” Prentiss said. “That’s [what it is] about our relationship that made it really easy to endorse her.”
Democrats have not won a governor’s race in New Hampshire since 2014, when now-Sen. Maggie Hassan ran for reelection. Prentiss said she believes Democrats have the “best opportunity” to take back the governorship next year, in part because of the openness of the race.
Sununu’s incumbency and perception as “a moderate, as someone who appeals to both parties” made him difficult to beat in recent election cycles, even in years when statewide and congressional Democrats also won, Prentiss added. In 2022, Sununu won reelection by nearly 16 points, even as Granite Staters voted for an all-Democratic congressional delegation.
“If you look up the ballot, people vote for [Democratic Sen.] Jeanne Shaheen, and vote for [Democratic Rep.] Annie Kuster and then vote for Chris Sununu,” Prentiss said.
Regarding the candidates already competing for the GOP nomination, Prentiss said she had “serious concerns” about Ayotte’s positions on abortion and gun control. Though she said she “respects” Morse, whom she previously served with in the state Senate, Prentiss admitted they have widely different visions for New Hampshire’s political future.
In Hanover, students have already begun to express interest in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. College Democrats of New Hampshire President Prescott Herzog ’25 said he plans to work with Dartmouth’s administration on connecting students with both Craig and Warmington before the primary.
“The pathway to victory in New Hampshire is by getting students and people in college towns out to vote,” Herzog said. “And so if voters can really resonate with their messages inside towns like Hanover and Durham, then I think that really helps with their chances.”
While Herzog said College Democrats of New Hampshire does not intend to back either Craig or Warmington in the primary, he added that “meet the candidate” forums will better inform Democratic student voters on campus.
“Until the primary’s over, we’re going to have open eyes and ears and let them express their policies and why they make the best case for governor,” Herzog said.
Dartmouth Conservatives did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.