Pushing the Glass Ceiling

All New Hampshire Races for Congress Feature Prominent Women

Posted February 26, 2008 at 6:33pm

There’s something about New Hampshire.

Or rather, there’s something about Mary in New Hampshire.

The New England state known for its first-in-the-nation status in the presidential primary process might boast three women running for its two House seats and single Senate seat in November, a first for the state.

But that’s not the only example of the Granite State’s propensity to embrace women on the campaign trail. New Hampshire remains the site of one of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) best victories of her presidential campaign.

And if Clinton were to win the Democratic nomination — though it’s looking increasingly less likely lately — she might complement a Congressional ballot with at least one woman running for every seat.

Former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) is on track to face first-term Sen. John Sununu (R) this fall, while freshman Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) is up for re-election in the 1st district.

Republicans have recruited radio host Jennifer Horn to run in the 2nd district, though she must first face a crowded Republican primary field, including a sitting state Senator, before she can claim her party’s crown.

Horn said she has often been asked on the campaign trail if Shea-Porter’s and Shaheen’s candidacies inspired her to run, but she said that didn’t play a role.

“I think our state is fairly gender and race blind when it comes to politics,” Horn said. “Maybe more than other parts of the country, we choose our candidates one race at a time.”

Yet the relatively high number of female candidates and state lawmakers is a trend that trickles all the way down the ballot in the Granite State. In the New Hampshire Senate, women hold 10 of the 24 seats. In the 400- member state House, there are 142 female state Representatives — 35.6 percent.

Compare that number to the rest of the country, where 23.6 percent of the members of state legislatures nationally are female, according statistics from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

What’s more, Granite State women hold the top spots as state Senate President, President Pro-Tem and Speaker of the House. New Hampshire is currently second only to Maine, according to the Rutgers data, in the relatively high proportion of female legislative leaders.

As one of the largest general assemblies in the country, New Hampshire state Representatives are a volunteer army paid a $100 annual salary for their work in Concord.

“Once you run for state Legislature, that of course opens the doors to run for higher state office,” former New Hampshire GOP Chairwoman Jayne Millerick said. “There’s a way to get into the process, serve the state, get a taste of what it is and run from there.”

Millerick called the state Legislature a “great recruitment tool” that makes running for office “very accessible” for women in part because of the low cost of running state House campaigns, often no more than $100.

“We campaign at the House level, you’re taking about districts that are 3,000 people,” said Senate President Pro Tem Maggie Hassan (D). “We campaign on a very grass-roots level. It really is about going door to door.”

Hassan also points to elected role models such as Shaheen, who reigned during former Speaker Donna Sytek’s (R) tenure at the state House. Shaheen was a state Senator before winning three terms in the governor’s mansion in 1996.

However, other New Hampshire pols, such as Horn and Shea-Porter, don’t have a track record in the state Capitol.

New Hampshire Speaker Terie Norelli (D) attributed the success of many family candidates in part to the idea that there is comfort in numbers for women.

For example, Norelli supported Clinton in New Hampshire. By her count, eight or nine of the 14 Democratic state Senators supported Clinton as well — and all but two were women.

“We have had a woman governor,” Norelli said. “We have had three female Senate presidents. I’m the second woman Speaker of the House and there are only four female Speakers in the country. That said, Carol Shea-Porter is our first female Congresswoman and we have not had a woman U.S. Senator, so we are sort of pushing up the ceiling.”