Nikki Haley looks to capitalize on N.H. governor’s endorsement

MANCHESTER, N.H. — It was clear to New Hampshire voter Thalia Floras that Gov. Chris Sununu and Nikki Haley had “political chemistry” for a long time. 

And after months of courting from several of the Republican presidential contenders, Sununu finally announced this week that he was throwing his support behind Haley in his state’s critical early primary, potentially giving the former South Carolina governor a major boost as she seeks to become former President Donald Trump’s main Republican challenger. 

 It’s a process that reminded Floras of a reality TV show. 

“[Sununu] has spoken highly of Chris Christie and Ron DeSantis. He had to make a choice,” Floras said. “It’s just like ‘The Bachelor,’ right? They tell everybody they love them. But he has only got one rose.”

But for Floras, who is an undeclared voter currently leaning towards Haley, said Sununu’s endorsement wouldn’t affect how she would vote.

“It didn’t move the needle for me,” she said. “I’ll make my own decision.”

Still, Floras said she believes the Sununu “will influence New Hampshire voters who may be on the fence of one candidate or another.”

Mike Sampo, an undeclared voter, said that he is planning to vote for Haley in the Republican presidential primary. But as for his home state governor weighing in, he said “the endorsement really doesn’t mean much to me.”

“I’m sure it matters to some people but not to me,” Sampo said.

Haley is hoping the Sununu endorsement will give her a boost in New Hampshire, the second state to vote in the GOP nominating process, where polls show her in second place but still well behind Trump. 

Leslie Hess and Pauline Nadeau, who both plan to vote for Haley in the New Hampshire primary, think Sununu’s endorsement is “huge.” 

“It was a long time coming. He’s been kind of hedging his bets a little bit for quite some time. So it was great to see him come out for Nikki Haley,” Hess said. 

Hess said the endorsement from Sununu, who is broadly popular in New Hampshire, could particularly benefit Haley in the state’s primary because both Republican and undeclared voters are able to participate.  

“New Hampshire has such a huge number of independent voters here. So for him to come out and actually finally do an endorsement for her, that helps quite a bit,” Hess said. “And I think the independent voters are definitely not looking forward to another Trump regime. You know, and we’re hoping for the best, we got our fingers crossed.”

Marie Mulroy, an undeclared voter in New Hampshire who is leaning toward Haley, agreed. 

“He’s got Democrats, he’s got independents, and he’s got Republicans and I think that’s the difference there.” 

“Everybody loves [Sununu],” Mulroy said, calling him “a great ambassador for our state.” 

“He was very thorough with this,” Mulroy, who has attended dozens of town halls, explains. “He actually went and spent days with all these — every candidate … before he made this decision.” 

Reavis Riccio, an 18-year-old Republican voter, was split between Haley and DeSantis just over a week ago. He said Sununu’s endorsement changes his calculation.

“I’m Leaning towards Nikki now, I feel she just has the numbers in the support to go all the way and beat Trump, then beat [President Joe] Biden,” he texted NBC News. 

Hella Ross, who changed her party affiliation to undeclared this cycle from Democrat to undeclared so she could vote in the Republican primary, believes Sununu’s endorsement will be “very impactful.” 

“I saw it coming for a while,” Ross said. “I really wasn’t surprised.” 

Voters attending a campaign event for Christie in Londonderry, N.H., the day after Sununu announced his endorsement felt split. 

“Chris Sununu is such an important governor. He’s like old man Sununu, even though he’s in his 40s.” David Batulis, an undeclared voter who is still deciding who to vote for, told NBC News, “He’s perhaps the most important governor in America, and I think that it’ll carry a lot of weight.”

Christie supporters Dave Bregger and Daniel Berube both used the word “disappointed” to describe how they are feeling about Sununu’s endorsement of Haley. 

“I’m a little disappointed,” Berube said. “But at the same time, I wasn’t waiting for his endorsement to make my decision.”

New Hampshire GOP state Rep. Bill Boyd, who attended the Christie town hall, said, “We’re going to find out if Gov. Sununu’s political capital will make things interesting in New Hampshire and put a dent in the armor of former President Trump.”