On the Trail: Border crisis front-and-center in race to succeed Sununu

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu gestures during his State of the State address at the State House, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu gestures during his State of the State address at the State House, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

By PAUL STEINHAUSER

For the Monitor

Published: 02-18-2024 7:30 AM

Modified: 02-22-2024 4:28 PM


Republican Gov. Chris Sununu got what he asked for from state lawmakers on Friday, who approved funding for New Hampshire troops to help secure America’s southern border with Mexico.

The governor formally requested $850,000 to send up to 15 National Guard members – for up to 90 days – to Eagle Pass in Texas, where conservative Gov. Greg Abbott is butting heads with President Joe Biden and his administration both legally and politically in the combustible battle over border security and illegal immigration.

“The fentanyl supply over America’s southern border is increasing daily over the past few years,” the governor said Thursday in his last State of the State address. “Record amounts of fentanyl are being smuggled into our system. Millions of illegal migrants not just involved with human trafficking and extortion but with the deadly drug trafficking that is killing New Hampshire citizens.”

Sununu, joining with plenty of fellow Republican governors, said the problem is not confined to Texas.

“It is a national crisis, and New Hampshire has the chance to provide specialized support, follow the laws of the land and keep our citizens safe,” he said. “Let’s do this.”

Border security and illegal immigration are top issues on the minds of Americans. Just this week, it was front and center in a closely watched special Congressional election in suburban New York City, where the Democrats flipped a GOP-held seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to further narrow the Republicans’ already fragile majority in the chamber.

And with Sununu not seeking a fifth two-year term in the corner office, the issue is lurking in the race to succeed him.

With Republicans continuously blasting the Biden administration and Democrats over border security, it’s no surprise that the two major Republican candidates running for New Hampshire governor quickly praised Sununu.

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In an email titled, “Senator Chuck Morse Stands with Governors Abbott and Sununu in Securing the Southern Border,” the former longtime state Senate president and 2022 U.S. Senate candidate criticized Biden and commended Sununu “for taking a stand” and stressing that “this crisis demands bipartisan support and unified action.”

“I urge my colleagues and fellow Granite Staters to unite in supporting Texas’ constitutional right to self-defense,” as he pointed toward his former colleagues in the State House.

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte also took aim at the president and supported Sununu.

“The Biden administration’s disastrous open-border policies are dangerous and have allowed more deadly fentanyl to flow into New Hampshire,” Ayotte, who served as state attorney general before her election to the Senate, argued in a statement. “While Joe Biden fails, governors are stepping up to secure our country – I fully support Governor Sununu’s efforts and will always oppose sanctuary policies and fight to secure our borders.”

The moves by Sununu and other GOP governors in support of Abbott come amid the collapse of a bipartisan border security deal that was part of a broader funding bill that was making its way through the U.S. Senate. The measure was sunk due to Republican opposition, in part fueled by comments blasting the legislation from former President Donald Trump, who’s close to locking up his party’s 2024 presidential nomination.

Former Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, one of the two major Democratic gubernatorial candidates, said she supported the border deal.

“We need to take action on border security, and we need leaders who have the backbone to deliver real solutions to secure our border, prevent the trafficking of dangerous drugs like fentanyl and provide a pathway for individuals seeking asylum,” she said.

Craig charged that Ayotte and Morse “caved to Donald Trump and opposed a bipartisan bill to secure our nation’s borders and fund 1,500 additional border security agents, and now they want New Hampshire taxpayers to foot the bill.”

The other major Democratic candidate, executive councilor Cindy Warmington, didn’t immediately release a statement. But her campaign said that she will be asking Sununu about his request during next week’s Executive Council meeting.

For voters, border security and immigration were second only to the economy in importance, according to exit polls conducted during the Jan. 23 Republican presidential primary.

Support by Granite Staters for tougher border security measures has been on the rise in recent years, according to numbers from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

Bolduc targets Trumpduring South Carolinastop for Haley

Retired Gen. Don Bolduc has been a top surrogate for Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley since she launched her 2024 campaign a year ago.

And the New Hampshire native and 2022 GOP U.S. Senate nominee was a regular fixture at Haley’s slew of Granite State town halls dating back to her first stop in Exeter last February.

Bolduc this past week traveled to Haley’s home state of South Carolina, which in a week holds the next primary in the Republican presidential nominating calendar, to defend the former two-term governor and former U.N. ambassador and blast Trump, the commanding front-runner for the GOP nomination.

Trump, at a rally in South Carolina last weekend, mocked Haley’s husband for not being on the campaign trail with his wife, saying “Where’s her husband? He’s away. What happened to her husband? What happened to her husband? Where is he? He’s gone.”

Haley, whose husband Michael is currently deployed in Africa with the South Carolina Army National Guard, quickly slammed Trump for his comments and argued that he’s unfit to serve as commander-in-chief.

Bolduc, who served 10 tours of duty during the war Afghanistan, took aim at Trump at a Wednesday news conference at the Patriots Point military museum in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

“The comments that President Trump made about Michael’s service, knowing full well where Michael was, and trying to attribute that to some other characterization is absolutely disgraceful,” Bolduc argued. “A president of the United States that can’t honor its fallen and those that have served is someone who should not be president of the United States.”

Bolduc has some political history with Trump.

The then-president endorsed Corky Messner for the GOP nomination as Bolduc ran for the U.S. Senate the first time in the 2020 cycle. Messner ended up winning the nomination but lost by double digits to Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in the general election.

Trump stayed neutral in the 2022 New Hampshire Republican U.S. Senate primary, as Bolduc narrowly edged Morse in a crowded field of contenders. Trump endorsed Bolduc in late October 2022, just ahead of the general election but criticized the retired general for flip-flopping in his initial support of Trump’s unproven claims that his 2020 presidential election loss to Biden was due to massive voter fraud.

Bolduc ended up losing that November to Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. During his general election campaign, Bolduc was joined multiple times on the New Hampshire campaign trail by Haley, who at the time was flirting with a potential 2024 White House run.