DATE: Dec 25, 2018 PUBLICATION: Concord Monitor
By PAUL STEINHAUSER For the Monitor
With the 2020 election cycle underway in New Hampshire, it’s clear that for the next 14 months leading up to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, the White House race will receive top billing.
But also grabbing plenty of attention is what’s expected to be another high-profile U.S. Senate race in the Granite State.
While it seems increasingly certain that Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen will run for a third term when she’s up for re-election in 2020, the big question remains: Which Republicans may jump into the race to challenge the Democratic incumbent?
More on that in a moment – but first, Shaheen.
When asked about her extremely likely 2020 re-election bid, the Democratic incumbent hasn’t officially committed to anything.
“I expect to make a decision very soon and I’ll be announcing that,” she said to reporters recently.
But two weeks ago, at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s 2018 midterm election victory celebration, both Shaheen and the chairman of the state Democratic party made it pretty clear that the two-term senator and former three-term governor would be bidding for another six years in the Senate.
In introducing her, longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley was direct.
“We’ve got to re-elect Jeanne Shaheen to the United States Senate in 2020,” Buckley said.
Shaheen wasn’t as direct.
“We are going to hold this Senate seat,” she said. “We’re going to take back the United States Senate.”
While a Shaheen re-election announcement could come early in 2019, don’t expect any imminent announcements from Republicans who may be mulling a Senate bid.
It seems unlikely that the two most popular New Hampshire Republicans would run for the Senate in 2020.
Gov. Chris Sununu has repeatedly vowed that he has no interest in running for the U.S. Senate. The odds are much greater that the governor would run in 2020 for a third term in the corner office rather than for a full-time job in the nation’s capital.
“I have absolutely no interest,” Sununu told the Monitor in June. “I’m a manager. I love to manage.”
While she’s staying mum, it’s also highly doubtful former Sen. Kelly Ayotte would run in 2020.
Ayotte, who lost to then-governor Maggie Hassan by just 1,017 votes out of nearly three-quarters of a million cast in 2016, has joined the boards of numerous corporate and nonprofit entities, including News Corp., BAE Systems, Bloom Energy, Caterpillar, the One Campaign and the McCain Institute. She’s also a member of the executive committee of New Hampshire Veterans Count.
People close to her say it’s unlikely she’d run in 2020, with Shaheen running for re-election and with President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.
Ayotte struggled when asked at a 2016 Senate debate if she considered Trump a role model. A few weeks later, she broke with her party’s presidential nominee after Trump’s controversial 2005 Access Hollywood comments regarding women surfaced.
While those close to Ayotte say the odds right now are slim-to-none that she would run in 2020, a lot can change politically as the cycle progresses over the next year and a half.
Another option for Ayotte would be to wait until a 2022 rematch with Hassan.
There’s another name being bandied about – Republican business executive and Newport native Jay Lucas.
“I’m flattered that there have been a number of people who have been reaching out and asking me to consider running, particularly because I have been so active helping my hometown of Newport recently, and a number of other causes,” Lucas told the Monitor.
“The truth is, I don’t have any plans right now to run,” Lucas said.
But he added, “I’m not ruling it out.”
Lucas said he enjoys his time with the Newport Sunshine Initiative to revitalize his hometown.
“It is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done and we’re making real progress there,” he said. “I’m also incredibly busy and active supporting children of fallen patriots, helping kids here in New Hampshire who’ve lost a parent in active military service.”
Lucas, who ran against then-governor Shaheen in the 1998 election, was back on the campaign trail this autumn, helping knock on doors for his younger son, Gates, who followed in his father’s footsteps by winning election to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
Some Republicans point to former Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who moved to Rye and narrowly lost to Shaheen in the 2014 election.
But Brown is serving as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and those close to him say there are no current plans for him to prematurely end his diplomatic post and return to New Hampshire to possibly launch a Senate campaign.
One more name that’s being mentioned as a possible GOP Senate contender in 2020 is state Rep. Al Baldasaro.
The outspoken and often controversial Republican from Londonderry served as a top surrogate and adviser in New Hampshire for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. Last month, he narrowly lost the election for state House minority leader to GOP leader Dick Hinch. Baldasaro was named by Hinch as part of the chamber’s top GOP leadership, as House Republican Floor Leader.
Asked about a possible Senate bid, Baldasaro told the Monitor that “time will tell.”
“It’s on my radar. It’s crossed my mind,” he added.
But Baldasaro admitted that running for the Senate is “a lot of money, it’s a lot of involvement.”