New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has taken his most significant step yet in exploring a White House bid, launching a national political organization that’s a popular tool for prospective presidential candidates testing the waters.
The governor first confirmed to NBC News on Wednesday that he had formed the "Live Free or Die" committee (borrowed from his state’s nickname), a 501(c)(4) organization where politicians can raise unlimited funds. The donations don't have to be disclosed, and prospective candidates often use these political nonprofits as a way to gauge interest from donors.
The move comes after weeks in which Sununu has publicly teased entering the GOP primary, which officially kicks off with a first–in-the-nation contest in his home state, giving him automatic name ID and familiarity.
“I’m excited to talk about the successes that we’ve had in New Hampshire: lowering taxes, creating educational choices for parents and kids, and building opportunities for businesses to grow and thrive," Sununu said in a statement to NBC News. "What we’ve done in New Hampshire is a great model for the federal government — specifically promoting the conservative tenets of limited government, local control, and individual responsibility.”
Sununu joins former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Vice President Mike Pence in forming such a committee. Haley is widely expected to announce her presidential bid next week.
Sununu will be in Washington from Feb. 8-12 for the National Governors Association winter meeting, according to his office, and while there, he is expected to have conversations about efforts tied to the committee. He is working with Republican political strategist Brian McCabe and the DCI Group in Washington on his new organization.
“As a resident of New Hampshire, I am proud of what Governor Sununu has done to lower taxes, increase educational opportunities, and grow our economy — all with a split state legislature and an independent voting block," McCabe said in a statement. "If Republicans are going to be successful in 2024 and beyond we need a generational change to how we communicate our conservative principles. Governor Sununu has been successful in bringing all sides together to get things done for the people of New Hampshire, and if there’s anything I can do to help him talk about those successes to a broader audience, I want to do it.”
In a recent interview with NBC News, Sununu threw doubt on the candidacies of both Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Sununu said he did not think Trump could beat President Joe Biden if there is a 2024 matchup and cast DeSantis' governing style as too authoritarian if translated to a national government.
“America said something loud in clear in Nov. 22, they’re tired of the Washington drama, the lack of results. They don’t want to get into the political payback,” Sununu said. “I’m a governor who gets elected every two years, there is a sense we can bring leadership to bear.”
The media-friendly Sununu, just elected to his fourth, two-year term, could operate in a different lane than Trump and DeSantis, who have hung a large part of their messaging on the culture wars, New Hampshire political operatives say.
“Chris can do that really well and he’s proved that,” said Renee Plummer, a longtime influential GOP insider in New Hampshire who now says she identifies as bipartisan. “Chris is very good with the camera. … He’s just got that kind of 'it' factor you look for. He has no problem with people who don’t like him. He’s a good candidate. I don’t think you can learn what Chris Sununu has — he’s a natural at it.”
The Live Free or Die committee, according to a spokesman, is "dedicated to promoting New Hampshire’s Live Free or Die Spirit, prioritizing conservative values, and framing the national conversation to meaningfully engage and inspire the next generation of Americans."
Named for their place in the tax code, 501(c)(4) organizations have become increasingly common for prospective presidential candidates in recent years. Pence, who is also openly weighing a bid for the presidency in 2024, launched Advancing American Freedom two years ago, and some other potential GOP hopefuls have followed suit.
Described by critics as "dark money" committees, these nonprofit groups are allowed to engage directly in politics — including supporting candidates — and do not have to publicly disclose their donors. They risk losing their tax-exempt status if politics is the primary purpose of their activities — a standard that is hard to define.