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(CONCORD, N.H.) — New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said Wednesday that he will not run for reelection next year, elevating the race to replace him to the heart of the gubernatorial map in 2024.

Sununu, a Republican who is serving his fourth two-year term as his state’s executive, hails from a prominent family in New Hampshire and is considered near-royalty in local political circles. His announcement leaves the GOP field wide open — but not empty.

Former state Senate President Chuck Morse quickly jumped into the race and former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte teased an upcoming announcement, too.

In a letter to supporters, Sununu wrote that “public service should never be a career, and the time is right for another Republican to lead our great state.”

He went on to tout his time in office, including lowering the unemployment rate and cutting taxes.

“Be assured we will keep working and that the Granite State will continue to be our priority for the next 18 months,” he wrote.

Sununu repeatedly won reelection in his swing state, often by yawning margins, and on some issues he established a brand separate from that of the national GOP, including by vociferously supporting access to both firearms and abortion.

He had hinted at his decision several times over the course of the summer.

“I’m in my fourth term, probably out of here in 18 months or so. I don’t know. I don’t think I’m going to run again, but I’m really not sure,” Sununu said in an interview in June.

He was pushed by Republican critics of Donald Trump to run for the White House next year, though he declined, worrying too many primary competitors would actually help the former president clinch the nomination.

“The stakes are too high for a crowded field to hand the nomination to a candidate who earns just 35 percent of the vote, and I will help ensure this does not happen,” he wrote in an op-ed column for The Washington Post last month.

It’s unclear what the governor plans to do after leaving office. While the 2024 presidential primary race is still in its early stages, he has said he’s given advice and insight to some of the candidates — and spoken openly about who he thinks could be competitive.

Morse, now seeking to succeed Sununu, ran for the U.S. Senate last year against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan with broad establishment support (after Sununu himself said he would stay put in the governor’s mansion). Morse ended up losing the primary to hard-liner Don Bolduc, who then went on to lose to Hassan by about 10 points.

“Like most everyone else in New Hampshire I’m thankful for everything that Governor Sununu has done to make New Hampshire the state it is today. I’m proud to have worked with him to put together a conservative, pro-jobs, pro-growth, family first economic agenda that has made New Hampshire the envy of New England and the nation,” Morse said in a statement.

Ayotte served one term as senator before losing reelection to Hassan in 2016, falling short by just over 1,000 votes. She said in a statement that “I look forward to announcing some big news in the coming days.”

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, the leading Democratic candidate in the gubernatorial race, said in a statement that the contest presents New Hampshire voters an opportunity for a “new direction.”

“As I’ve had conversations with people across our state I’ve heard over and over that we need a governor that will support our cities and towns, lower costs, strengthen public education, build affordable housing, and protect our reproductive rights. I’m running for Governor to do just that,” she said.

Sununu’s decision not to seek another term makes New Hampshire among Democrats’ better flip opportunities next year. Democrats have not held the governor’s mansion since Hassan left office in early 2017 after winning her Senate seat.

The campaign arms for both parties insisted they will be heavily involved in the race, previewing the pitched battle ahead.

“The RGA is committed to ensuring the Granite State continues to have the leadership of a Republican Governor who will prioritize the health, safety and prosperity of the people of New Hampshire,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, the chair of the Republican Governors Association, said in a statement.

The Democratic Governors Association, meanwhile, indicated it will tie the race’s Republican candidates to the broader GOP brand, led by Trump.

“No matter which MAGA candidate becomes the nominee, the DGA is eager to hold them accountable to flip this seat and elect a new Democratic governor who will at long last fix the biggest issues impacting working families,” said DGA Executive Director Meghan Meehan-Draper.

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