Just weeks before New Hampshire holds its Republican presidential primary, the state’s governor, Chris Sununu, said on Sunday that Chris Christie’s presidential bid was “at an absolute dead end” and suggested that he drop out to pave way for Mr. Sununu’s preferred candidate, Nikki Haley.
Mr. Sununu, who this month endorsed Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador, told CNN that “the only person that wants Chris Christie to stay in the race is Donald Trump.”
He framed the race as a “two-person contest” between Ms. Haley and Mr. Trump, whom she now trails in New Hampshire by an average of 20 percentage points.
“There’s no doubt that if Christie stays in the race, the risk is that he takes her margin of the win,” Mr. Sununu said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
In a campaign ad last week, Mr. Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, explicitly addressed calls from some in the party for him to drop out to consolidate support around a non-Trump candidate. “Some people say I should drop out of this race,” he said. “Really? I’m the only one saying Donald Trump is a liar.”
In response to Mr. Sununu’s remarks, a spokesman for Mr. Christie’s campaign doubled down on that message: “The events of the last few days fully solidifies the point that Christie has been making for six months: that the truth matters, and if you can’t answer the easy questions, you can’t fix the big problems.”
Mr. Sununu’s comments were in response to questions from Dana Bash, the CNN anchor, about Ms. Haley’s recent gaffe involving the Civil War, for which she has faced significant criticism from Mr. Christie and others.
On Wednesday, when she received a question at a New Hampshire town hall about the cause of the Civil War, Ms. Haley’s answer did not mention slavery. The next day, she walked back her remarks, telling a New Hampshire interviewer, “Of course the Civil War was about slavery.” She suggested that the question came from a “Democrat plant.”
Mr. Sununu acknowledged that Ms. Haley had made a mistake in her remarks, but dismissed them as a “nonissue,” saying she had “cleared it right up and everyone’s moving on.”
Mr. Christie and Ms. Haley have maintained a complicated relationship throughout the primary cycle. Mr. Christie defended Ms. Haley during the fourth Republican debate after she was attacked by Vivek Ramaswamy, the wealthy entrepreneur running for office. Yet earlier this month, in the first ad released by his campaign, Mr. Christie blasted Ms. Haley and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida for attacking each other more than they do Mr. Trump.
Ms. Haley has made headway in New Hampshire in recent weeks, climbing to a solid second place. (Mr. Christie is polling third in the state). But securing the nomination remains a daunting task: She continued to battle Mr. DeSantis for second place in Iowa, and remains behind Mr. Trump, her former boss, in national polls by around 50 points.
While Ms. Haley was campaigning in Iowa over the weekend, an attendee at a town hall in Cedar Falls asked her why she was behind in polls in South Carolina, her home state. Ms. Haley said that her support there would grow, should she perform well in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states on the nomination schedule. “South Carolinians are the type that they want to see you earn it,” she explained.
Her response did not directly address specifics — that Mr. Trump is immensely popular in the state and has received endorsements from many top officials, including Gov. Henry McMaster and Senator Lindsey Graham.
On Sunday, Mr. Sununu also told CNN of his disapproval of the Maine secretary of state, Shenna Bellows, removing Mr. Trump from the state’s primary ballot last week. He called the decision “very politically motivated,” saying of Ms. Bellows, “This is a politician who I think has political aspirations down the road and is trying to make a little bit of a name for herself.”
Mr. Sununu said that Mr. Trump’s removal would “only boost his opportunity to play that victim card down the road.”