Buy a lottery ticket, Chris. This is your lucky day.
On the same day Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge David Anderson shot down a Democratic lawsuit targeting his executive power, Gov. Chris Sununu received the highest approval rating of any New Hampshire politician in a generation.
The newest Granite State Panel survey from the UNH Survey Center reports, “nearly nine in ten New Hampshire residents (89 percent) approve of the Republican governor’s handling of the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, while just 7 percent disapprove.” That includes a jaw-dropping 86 percent of Democrats, in addition to 93 percent of both Republicans and self-described independents.
“I have never seen numbers like this for any New Hampshire officeholder, going back to before the Democrats beat Gov. Mel Thomson in the ’80s, and certainly not in this period of Democratic domination,” longtime GOP strategist Tom Rath told NHJournal.
After weeks of riding in Sununu’s slipstream on the coronavirus crisis, New Hampshire Democrats have gotten back into the partisan swing. Unfortunately for them, their efforts have largely backfired — as evidenced by Sununu’s 16-point approval surge during the past month.
Part of that partisan pushback was Democrats’ decision to force Sununu into court over his authority to spend the $1.25 billion in federal COVID-19 emergency funds. After weeks of accusing Sununu of creating a “slush fund” and acting like a “king,” Democrats were smacked down by Judge Anderson on both the issue of standing to sue — the Democratic legislators who filed the suit didn’t have it — and the substance: “The Court concludes that the public interest would not favor the issuance of a preliminary injunction.”
Judge Anderson added, “To go even further and allow an individual state taxpayer to stop or even delay the governor from distributing purely federal funds intended for the benefit of the public in the midst of a global pandemic would be contrary to the public interest.”
Democrats’ response? More of the same.
“Granite Staters will continue to hold Sununu accountable for taking $1.25 billion in COVID-19 relief funds and funneling it into his own personal slush fund,” NHDem state party chair Ray Buckley said in a tweet.
Suing a governor in the middle of a pandemic is always risky politics. Now that his approval rating is higher than Democratic U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s– among members of her own party — these attacks border on political malfeasance.
Not that Sununu is a lock for re-election. Trump’s poll numbers remain abysmal in New Hampshire and Democrats control every power center except the governor’s office. Some politicos have compared Sununu’s eye-popping 89 percent approval to President George H. W. Bush’s sky-high numbers in the wake of America’s victory in Operation Desert Storm. Two years later, a relatively unknown Arkansas governor beat him at the ballot box.
As former NHDem state chair Kathy Sullivan told NHJournal, “It’s a long way to November.”
Still, Sununu’s in excellent shape according to GOP consultant Dave Carney.
“The judge’s ruling punching down the power-grabbing Democrats keeps our emergency funds out of their partisan hands, which is good news for everyone in New Hampshire,” Carney said. “Everyone approves of his performance except the 7 percent of the population made up of noisy Democrat-paid operators and agitators striving for attention, which validates his approach. It’s good to be Chris Sununu.”
Per usual, Sununu declined to take an overly-partisan victory lap, part of his appeal.
“I would like to thank Judge Anderson for issuing this order under immense time constraints,” Sununu said in a statement. “Solicitor General Dan Will and the team at the Department of Justice did a fantastic job arguing this case. In this unprecedented public health emergency, it is paramount that we get relief out to New Hampshire families fast, and that is what I am determined to do.”
“What’s most impressive about Chris Sununu is that he’s earned these numbers by basically being himself,” Rath said. “He is smart, full of energy, genuinely likes people, and loves his job. And even though he is a partisan, he knows when to lay politics aside and follow the Belichick mantra ‘do your job.’
“Quite simply, he is acting the way we would want our governor to act,” Rath said.