Gov. Chris Sununu's announcement he will seek a third term as governor in 2020 and pass on a U.S. Senate challenge of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, is hardly a big shock but it resolves the biggest unknown about state politics next year.
Now the three Republicans exploring their own GOP Senate bid -- former House Speaker Bill O'Brien of Nashua, retired Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc of Stratham and Seacoast lawyer Bryant "Corky" Messner -- have the open field to themselves without having to worry that a big foot Sununu might one day decide he wants this nomination.
O'Brien may be publicly closest to a decision he will run targeting this summer as when he'll make the final call.
All signs right now point to a likely go for O'Brien.
Bolduc and Messner are both meeting with activists and continue to introduce themselves.
Messner did just that with an online commentary on Fox News.com earlier this week writing the liberal left was dead wrong about what millennials want.
"The media would have you believe that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is the leader of the millennial demographic. She is not," Messner wrote.
"Ocasio-Cortez argues that millennials need an all-powerful, constantly regulating big government to build and sustain their lives. While she panders to millennials for political gain, true next generation leaders will show their friends and colleagues a way of life that is much better than one spent relying on government and socialism."
Messner, a retired, Army ranger, came across as someone getting ready to present his own credentials to statewide voters next year.
"I'm writing this today because in my career and through my service to our country, I’ve seen the good, conservative instincts in our next generation. I’m confident that despite the best efforts of the media and liberal Democrats, millennials will not be seduced by the siren song of progressives," Messner concluded.
"As we Republicans look ahead to 2020, it’s up to us to welcome these patriots to our party, grow our team and harness their energy to help roll back tired, left-wing politicians and their exhausted big-government ideas."
Shaheen remains at this early stage a prohibitive favorite as multiple polls have shown she's easily the most popular member of the congressional delegation and financially is well on her way to building a substantial reelection war chest.
But Republican State Chairman Steve Stepanek of Amherst insists the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee will invest in this race and views this New Hampshire Senate race as a winnable one.
"We've already seen outside ads targeting some of Shaheen's past votes. She's vulnerable and as long as New Hampshire is a battleground state, which it is, this Senate race is going to attract a lot of attention in Washington, D.C., Stepanek said.
Democratic race for governor will take longer to unfold
Sununu's decision to stay put and ask for another two years as governor doesn't mean it will lead immediately to a flood of Democratic candidates entering this race.
Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes of Concord, for example, has made it clear he's not at all thinking about 2020 politics until the legislative business is wrapped up.
Given the many policy and financial fights over the next two-year state budget this session could be more than a month away from ending.
Another potential 2020 candidate for governor, Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky of Concord, is also taking his time and spending much of it to promote his cause to revisit the state's education funding formula and help the property-poor communities cope with ever-rising costs.
Former State Sen. Molly Kelly of Harrisville, the 2018 nominee for governor, has no reason to be in any hurry of her own.
She earned some bona fides by stepping up last year when other prominent Democrats took a pass on taking on Sununu.
Then there's Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig. She's got her own reelection campaign challenge coming up this November and is not about to publicly entertain a 2020 offering of any kind.
But many veteran Democrats believe this politically successful, careful and cautious chief executive from the state's largest city might be just the challenger who could retire Sununu next year.
For all the above reasons, don't look for this Democratic primary race to fully shake out until near or at the end of 2019.
Senate Democrats throw some House plans overboard
The State Senate's Democratic leadership began to demonstrate how in 2020 it's not about to have its new majority run on every bit of the left-leaning policy agenda that's already cleared the House of Representatives.
That's why a Senate committee on Tuesday recommended unanimously to re-refer or punt until 2020 action on a bill to legalize recreational possession of marijuana.
Don't look for this one to get all the way through the Senate in an election year either.
Then the Senate killed House-passed bills to outlaw the use of plastic straws or single-use plastic bags (See related story).
Republican State Committee Chairman Stepanek said he's not surprised Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, and her team are trying to distance itself from some of the more controversial House-passed bills.
"I keep telling people we have a very target-rich environment. I can fully appreciate how they want to limit some of the targets but their members have got a lot of explaining to do to the voters for a very liberal extreme agenda," Stepanek said.
Senate Majority Leader Feltes has said Senate leaders were focused on delivering on the promises of their Granite State Opportunity Plan that included raising the minimum wage, rolling back business tax cuts to deliver more local property tax relief and the paid family and medical leave bill Sununu has vetoed.
Conservatives pan Sununu's pitch to retired first responders
Sununu certainly endeared himself to retired public employees embracing Tuesday a House-passed bill (HB 616) to grant a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase for all those who had retired at least five years ago.
“For nearly 10 years, our state’s retirees have been without an actual cost of living adjustment that directly goes towards the base payment of their benefits,” Sununu said. “The time to do something is now, and I am ready to work with the Legislature to get this done.”
Bill McQuillen, chairman of the New Hampshire Retirement Security Coalition, credited Sununu with recognizing that rank-and-file retirees were being denied COLAS because public employers had deliberately under-financed the system.
"Time and again recent Legislatures have used the rising employer costs of the pension system as the bogeyman against cost of living adjustments,” McQuillen said. "New Hampshire’s retired public employees are thrilled to see bipartisan support for a much-needed, modest COLA.”
But Greg Moore, state director of fiscally-conservative Americans for Prosperity, said giving a COLA now will only balloon the unfunded liability.
"The governor could not be more off base here. This means higher property taxes and a longer period before we pay off the state's unfunded liability. The Senate should protect taxpayers and kill HB 616," Moore said.
What frustrated fiscal conservatives was the House vote on this bill, 219-150, had easily enough Republican opposition to it that a Sununu veto of the COLA hike would have been upheld.
Given labor's strong support in the Democratically-controlled Senate, the COLA bill is a virtual lock to land on Sununu's desk for his signature.
AG promotes election law chief
Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald recently promoted Matthew Broadhead to become chief of the Transportation and Construction Bureau in the Department of Justice.
Broadhead had gotten high marks from state and local election officials after MacDonald named him to head up a new election law unit in 2017.
The new election law unit attorney is Nicholas Chong Yen who has been with the department since last August and previously worked in the criminal drug section of the AG's office.
Chong Yen is a former, assistant Grafton County attorney and University of New Hampshire law school graduate.
Marchand promoting abortion rights response
Two-time candidate for governor and ex-Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand will propose at a Thursday morning news conference his own ideas for state legislation to expand abortion rights in response to the moves in Alabama and other states to ban or place further restrictions on legal abortions.
"In light of recent actions in Alabama and other states, designed to accelerate a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the U.S. Supreme Court; and given the changing makeup of the Supreme Court following the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh; it is more important than ever that leaders at the state level are aggressively proactive in protecting and expanding reproductive rights for all women regardless of their socioeconomic status," Marchand said in a statement.
Since losing the 2018 primary race for governor to Kelly, Marchand has continued to remain politically active and last month signed on as an adviser to the 2020 presidential campaign of entrepreneur and nonprofit founder Andrew Yang.
Warren disses Fox News as they head for NH
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., announced plans to return to New Hampshire to campaign this weekend and took at shot at Fox News.
Last Tuesday Warren announced she rejected an invitation to do a town hall on that network concluding it would be supporting a "hate-for-profit racket" to do an hour-long prime time event as several of her 2020 Democratic rivals have done or agreed to do.
"I love town halls. I’ve done more than 70 since January, and I’m glad to have a television audience be a part of them," Warren began.
"But Fox News is a hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists — it’s designed to turn us against each other, risking life and death consequences, to provide cover for the corruption that’s rotting our government and hollowing out our middle class.
"Hate-for-profit works only if there’s profit, so Fox News balances a mix of bigotry, racism, and outright lies with enough legit journalism to make the claim to advertisers that it’s a reputable news outlet."
Meanwhile the town hall that 2020 rival Bernie Sanders did on Fox News last month got the highest rating of any such event in this entire campaign thus far.
Perhaps in response, South Bend, Ind. Mayor and surging Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg agreed to his own Fox News town hall that will be broadcast live this Sunday night in Claremont from 7-8 p.m.
Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace will moderate the Claremont forum, his first of the 2020 cycle.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. had a Fox News town hall last week.
Plans are in the works for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, to have her own.
Warren's attack on Fox isn't out of left field.
The Democratic National Committee announced last year it would not have Fox News as a sponsor for its sanctioned debates.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has not responded to the invitation from Fox News according to campaign aides though some journalists speculate that like Warren, Harris will give Fox the brushoff.
Warren's surely has gotten plenty of applause on social media from liberals who don't get their TV news dose from Fox.
But some at rival TV networks questioned the move.
Whoopi Goldberg concluded a segment on ABC-TV's "The View" Wednesday by saying, “If you can’t face the Fox audience, you can’t face the U.S. It’s that simple."
Former Rep. Joe Scarborough, co-host of "Morning Joe" on MSNBC-TV Wednesday morning said many of the news anchors at Fox were fair journalists and Warren was missing a golden opportunity.
“You have Democrats that watch Fox News, you have independents that watch Fox News, swing voters watch Fox News,” Scarborough said. “You have to get out in front of people who may not agree with you. It seems to me Fox News is a great place for Democrats to go engage and pick up a few swing voters."
Gillibrand seeks PFAS mandate
Democratic hopeful Gillibrand has come up with bipartisan legislation to crack down on an environmental issue that resonates in New Hampshire, setting a tougher standard for toxic PFAS chemicals in drinking water.
Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is joining Gillibrand with the measure to require the Environmental Protection Agency to set a maximum contaminant level and primary national drinking water regulation for PFAS within two years of their bill becoming law. The measure would group all PFAS chemicals under a single maximum contaminant level.
“It is the EPA’s job to protect Americans from highly toxic chemicals like PFAS, but they have failed to do what is necessary to help ensure our families in New York and across the country are no longer exposed to dangerous levels of PFAS in their drinking water,” Gillibrand said in a statement.
Gillibrand has dealt with health risks from PFAS concentrations found at Air National Guard bases in her home state.
While campaigning in New Hampshire last March, Gillibrand hosted events on the topic in Portsmouth and Merrimack.
Hassan opens SNHU cyber warfare talk
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH., will provide opening remarks on cyber warfare at the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire at its Global Forum to be held this Sunday at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester.
New York Times National Security Correspondent David Sanger will give a presentation on U.S. preparedness for the next cyber attack.
Hassan has written or co-authored several bills to strengthen cyber defenses as a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The event begins at 6 p.m. at SNHU's Dining Center Banquet Hall.