Former New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte announced a campaign for governor on Monday, entering the race to succeed popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu in 2024.
Sununu’s surprise announcement last week that he would not seek a fifth two-year term set off what is likely to be a competitive election in the Granite State that could draw several contenders.
“I’m running for governor because New Hampshire is one election away from becoming Massachusetts – from becoming something we are not,” Ayotte said in a statement.
Ayotte is a veteran of New Hampshire Republican politics, first serving as state attorney general in 2004 and then elected as US senator in 2010. She was defeated in 2016 by then-Gov. Maggie Hassan in an extremely close race, losing by just over 1,000 votes.
As a senator, Ayotte had a reputation as a bipartisan dealmaker, but in her 2016 reelection bid she struggled to navigate a political environment dominated by Donald Trump’s first campaign for president.
During that election, Ayotte suffered a high-profile stumble when she attempted to walk back comments she made during a debate, calling Trump a “role model.” Initially supportive of Trump’s bid, albeit hesitantly, Ayotte ultimately said she would write-in Mike Pence on her ballot that year in the wake of the revelations from the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.
Ayotte will first have to advance in a GOP primary that already includes the longtime former New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse, who unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2022. The Democratic mayor of Manchester, Joyce Craig, has also declared her candidacy.
The race provides an opening for Democrats to gain control over New Hampshire’s governorship. Sununu, a frequent Trump critic, won reelection by large margins in 2020 and 2022, while Democrats won other statewide races on the ticket.