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Feb 23, 2016 11:21 PM

Steinhauser: Sununu tells NH1 News he's stepping up campaign "in a really agressive way"

NH1 News Political Director

MANCHESTER – With New Hampshire’s presidential primary fading into the rear view mirror, gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu says “we’re really putting our foot down on the gas in this campaign.”

Speaking one-on-one with NH1 News, the Republican executive councilor also said he welcomes more rivals for the GOP nomination, saying “primaries can be a very good thing.”

And Sununu, who in the past opposed Medicaid expansion, said a state House of Representatives bill that would extend Medicaid expansion for another two years is “probably a good step forward.”

Sununu spoke with NH1 News on Monday, after returning from a weekend visit to the nation’s capital, where he took part in meetings with the Republican Governors Association and with individual GOP governors who are supporting his gubernatorial campaign.

Sununu, who’s Labor Day announcement that he was running for governor made him the first candidate to officially jump into the race, said “we’re out raising a lot of money, bringing in a lot of endorsements. We’ve had a tremendous amount of success.”

The presidential primary “obviously took up a lot of the political oxygen in the room,” said Sununu, “so we kind of bided our time for little bit.”

But with the first-in-the-nation primary over, Sununu added that “now we’re really going to move forward in a really aggressive way, there’s no doubt about that. Whether it’s putting our signs out, having sign waves, the meet and greet parties, the fundraisers, anything we can do to get our message out there.”

The New Hampshire Democratic Party in recent days has tried to tie Sununu to Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump, who won the Granite State GOP primary by 19 percentage points and this past Saturday won South Carolina by double digits. A recent email from the NHDP was titled “Trump/Sununu: The GOP’s losing ticket of 2016.”

Asked by NH1 News if having Trump at the top of the ticket would help or hurt his bid for trying to capture the open gubernatorial seat, Sununu demurred.

“We’re still a long ways out. We’re barely into our fourth state in this process, so there’s still a lot more to be played. We still have five candidates running for president and whether it’s Donald Trump or any of the others, right now I’m focused on my race for governor,” he said. “Who and how the presidential candidate plays into this race, we’re still a ways out. And that remains to be seen.”

State Rep. Frank Edelblut, who also attended the RGA meetings in Washington DC, is also running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Last week Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas told NH1 News that when he gets back from his annual vacation in Aruba, he’ll “probably putting together an exploratory committee and then moving forward."

And state Sen. Jeanie Forrester is seriously mulling a bid.

Asked if he concerned about the possibility of increased competition, Sununu said “no, not at all. Look, primaries, I’m a big believe, primaries can be a very good thing.”

“If other people want to get it, that’s fine too. Like I said, primaries can be a very good thing, a great sounding board. I think it always makes people better candidates,” Sununu said.

The NHDP says the possibility of more Republicans running points to a “real fatigue” with the Sununu brand. Chris Sununu is the son of former Gov. John H. Sununu and younger brother to former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu.

“I just think that a Sununu has desperately tried to present himself as the presumptive nominee,” Chairman Ray Buckley told NH1 News.

Sununu disagrees, saying “I never try to keep anybody out of the race. That’s part of the New Hampshire process, that you always have a lot of people on the ticket, that you’re always talking about the issues, always trying to build resonance and making sure people understand who you are. That’s why we run. In New Hampshire public service is really that. It’s public service. It’s not a career.”

And in a telling moment, he added “we’re looking to November and we feel very good about it.”

Medicaid and Planned Parenthood

Earlier this month the full state House advanced a bill that would extend the New Hampshire Health Protection Program for two years, through the end of 2018, with insurance companies and hospitals ponying up $37 million of the state’s $51 million contribution once the federal government stops at the beginning of next year paying 100%.

“I think it’s probably a good step forward. I like the idea that we’re moving forward without any tax payer burden, any tax burden on the taxpayers back. We have essentially a public-private partnership helping to fund it as we move forward, and those are very positive steps. What I would like to see is a long term strategy for this state, not simply taking it in two or four year chunks,” Sununu said.

State and national Democrats continue to hammer Sununu over his deciding vote on the Executive Council last summer to end the state’s contract with Planned Parenthood. Sununu, who’s “pro-choice” and who supported past state funding for Planned Parenthood, last summer voted again extending the funds.

Sununu tried to turn the tables, criticizing Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who’s challenging GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte instead of running for a third term in the Corner Office.

“I’ve been pleading with this governor to put in state funding into all the options for women. It is incredibly disappointing that the governor would stand up and say that women shouldn’t have choices in their health care providers. It’s something I fought very hard for. We have a lot of options in the state. Those state funds are just sitting there. They absolutely need to be released for more women’s health care providers,” Sununu said.

“We’ve brought options to the table. I work with HHS. We brought those options directly to the governor. And she refused. I think this governor has a lot to answer for as to why she’s refusing to let that money come out and she’s insisting it only go to her political friends at Planned Parenthood. That’s not the New Hampshire way. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and most importantly it doesn’t help the women of this state,” he added.

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