As a child, Chris Sununu sat behind his dad’s desk at the New Hampshire Statehouse on Inauguration Day, only to be told by his father he’d have to run for governor if he wanted to sit there.
He did, and in January the Republican will become the nation’s youngest governor at age 42. Sununu, whose birthday was last week, is seven months younger than Republican Eric Greitens, who was elected governor of Missouri on Tuesday, and two years younger than South Carolina’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, who currently holds the “youngest” title.
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Sununu, whose father, John H. Sununu, served three terms as governor starting in 1983, downplayed the significance of his age. He said this week he’s glad voters chose him for his experience. He couldn’t be reached Friday for further comment. Haley said she’s looking forward to working with Sununu.
“Chris won by the will of the people, and he should continue to follow his instincts that won him the trust of so many,” she said. “His drive, knowledge, and experience will allow? him to be a great governor.”
The Democratic candidate for New Hampshire governor this year, Colin Van Ostern, was even younger than Sununu — 37. During their campaign, each tried to portray the other as inexperienced businessmen. Van Ostern has worked for political campaigns, Stonyfield Yogurt and Southern New Hampshire University; Sununu is a former environmental engineer who more recently helped buy and operate the Waterville Valley ski area.
While Sununu will be the nation’s youngest governor, he won’t be the youngest ever to serve New Hampshire. That distinction goes to Republican Hugh Gregg, who was 35 when he was elected in 1952. His son Judd, who later served as governor, congressman and U.S. senator, was only 5 years old when his father was elected and doesn’t remember any talk of his dad’s youthfulness.
But he noted that was a different era. Before becoming governor, Hugh Gregg had served as mayor of Nashua and was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, and it wasn’t unusual for people his age to be seen as leaders.
“I think that time, there was a huge group of people his age who’d been through war, so I don’t think anyone considered his youth an issue because of that experience,” he said.
Gregg said he is confident Sununu has the ability and talent to do the job well, given that he ran the ski area in both good winters and bad.
“That’s about as New Hampshire of an experience as you can get for a small business,” he said.