Former Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, entered the race for governor of New Hampshire on Monday, following Governor Chris Sununu’s announcement last week that he would not run for office again in 2024.
“I am running for governor because New Hampshire is one election away from becoming Massachusetts — from becoming something we are not,” Mrs. Ayotte wrote in her campaign announcement. Maura Healey, a Democrat, overturned the Massachusetts governor’s office last year after Charlie Baker declined to run for office again. Both Mr. Baker and Mr. Sununu are popular moderate Republicans in their states.
Ms. Ayotte, a former New Hampshire attorney general, was ousted from her Senate seat in 2016 by Maggie Hassan, a Democrat who had previously served as the state’s popular governor.
Ms. Ayotte’s candidacy for governor comes as the state is drawing renewed attention from Republican presidential candidates, many of whom have repeatedly traveled to the state to condemn voters who are among the first to go to the polls in the GOP primary.
Ms. Ayotte is expected to gain widespread support among Republicans in the state, in a race that shifted the nonpartisan Cook Political Report to a tossup, from solid Republican, after Mr. Sununu said he would no longer run. Chuck Morse, the former New Hampshire state senate president who lost last year’s GOP Senate primaries in the race to run against Ms. Hassan, entered the race almost immediately after Mr. Sununu’s announcement.
Two Democrats in the state — Cinde Warmington, a member of the New Hampshire executive council, and Joyce Craig, the mayor of Manchester — announced their candidacy ahead of Mr. Sununu’s statement.
Ms. Ayotte faced a tough reelection campaign in 2016, even as Republicans rose to power nationally. She served only one term in the Senate.
While New Hampshire has had several recent statewide officials who are Republican, the state leaned blue during presidential elections and supported Democrats in the last five.
In addition to her announcement, Mrs. Ayotte rolled a long list of approvals from dozens of Republicans across the state, who rallied behind her candidacy.
But National Democrats were quick to criticize the former senator, signaling their intention to put abortion protections at the center of the race.
“Kelly Ayotte has worked her entire career to pile the deck on New Hampshire’s working families and attack their most fundamental freedoms — she even led the charge for a national abortion ban — which is why New Hampshire voters retired her seven years ago after serving a single term in the Senate,” wrote Izzi Levy, the Democratic Governors Association’s deputy communications director.
In her statement on Monday, Ms. Ayotte said she would seek to tackle crime by “standing up for our law enforcement officers” and would strive to “protect and enhance New Hampshire’s economic advantage.”
She also indicated that she would lean on cultural issues that motivate the Republican base, writing that she would “stand with the parents, not the bureaucrats, when it comes to deciding what’s best for our kids.”