CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte announced her candidacy for governor of New Hampshire on Monday, days after fellow Republican Chris Sununu declined to seek a fifth term.

“Gov. Sununu did a great job, but there’s going to be a vacuum there,” Ayotte said on “Fox & Friends.”

Ayotte, who became New Hampshire’s first female attorney general in 2004, would be the state’s third female elected governor, following Democrats Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.

Ayotte was elected to the Senate in 2010 but lost six years later to Hassan by just over 1,000 votes in one of the nation’s most closely watched contests. Since leaving Washington, she has served on several corporate and nonprofit boards. Ayotte said Monday she is returning to politics “to make sure that New Hampshire remains safe, prosperous and free.”

“We are one election away from becoming Massachusetts in New Hampshire, and I’m not going to let that happen,” she said. “We have something very special in New Hampshire — no income (tax), no sales tax, education freedom is so important in our state.”

Ayotte is the second Republican candidate to announce. Chuck Morse, former Republican president of the New Hampshire Senate and a former U.S. Senate candidate, announced his campaign for governor shortly after Sununu announced his decision in an email to supporters on Wednesday.

Two Democrats have already announced their campaigns, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington. Both women have emphasized protecting abortion rights, and the issue likely will play a major role in the general election campaign regardless of who wins the nominations.

Ayotte told WMUR-TV Monday she is not looking to change the current ban on abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy that Sununu signed into state law in 2021. But a spokesperson for the Democratic Governors Association criticized Ayotte for calling for a national ban on abortion after 20 weeks of preganancy in 2014, for supporting the overturning of Roe v. Wade and opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

“With her announcement today, Ayotte joins a field of losing candidates that is all but assured to grow louder, messier, and more extreme, before Granite Staters reject her once more for a candidate who will actually work to defend reproductive freedom and fix the problems they face,” the association’s deputy communications director Izzi Levy said in a statement.

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, a Democrat who has endorsed Craig’s campaign, dismissed Ayotte’s criticism of her state Monday.

“I’ll let the Republican primary opponents duke it out,” she said. “The Republican primary doesn’t interest me. I’m focused on what’s happening here in Massachusetts — getting a budget, getting a tax package that makes sense and working to make life better for residents in our state.”

The New Hampshire race for governor is taking shape in tandem with the 2024 presidential contest, with Republican candidates making frequent trips to the early primary state. Asked Monday which Republican will prevail in the primary, Ayotte said, “I look forward to supporting our Republican nominee.” She did not mention the current frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, with whom she has a tortuous history.

During her 2016 Senate campaign, Ayotte spent months supporting Trump without endorsing him. She called him a role model for children during one debate but took it back the next day. And when old recordings of Trump bragging about forcing himself on women surfaced, she rescinded her support altogether — and said she’d write in Mike Pence for president instead.

But after she lost and Trump won, his administration tapped her to help Neil Gorsuch navigate his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. And a prominent member of Trump’s inner circle in New Hampshire, Bruce Breton, is backing her gubernatorial campaign.


Associated Press Writer Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.