New Hampshire May See First All-Female Delegation

Posted August 6, 2010 at 5:39pm

There is an unusual storyline playing out between the endorsements, fundraisers and political attacks in New Hampshire.

When the 112th Congress convenes in January, the Granite State could be represented by the nation’s first all-female Congressional delegation.

New Hampshire already has the distinction of being the only state this cycle with active female candidates left in each of its Congressional races. And pollsters and political observers alike believe the state could make history this fall, although it may be a long shot.

“It is a historic thing to consider, and it would be very much in the tradition of New Hampshire,” said Democrat Katrina Swett, who hopes to become the first woman elected in the 2nd district. “Unlike many parts of the country, we really have changed the traditional portrait of power.”

Indeed, in 2008 the Granite State became the first to feature a female majority in one of its legislative chambers. That same year, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen became the nation’s first woman to serve as governor and U.S. Senator.

While the Democrat isn’t on the ballot again until 2014, the contests for New Hampshire’s other Senate seat and two House seats are still very much up in the air.

Sophomore Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) is ahead in early polling against former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta (R), but she has yet to crack the 50 percent mark.

Swett is battling another woman, the well-funded Ann McLane Kuster, in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary. The winner will likely face former Rep. Charles Bass (R), who is still relatively popular, in November.

And the state’s high-profile Senate contest to replace Republican Judd Gregg will likely feature Kelly Ayotte, the frontrunner in the GOP primary who recently won former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s endorsement, against Rep. Paul Hodes (D).

“I’d say the chances are maybe 1 in 5 that all the seats would go to a woman candidate,” said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. “I don’t think the sex really is making much of a difference here, except that Democrats in New Hampshire, and really across the country, have been nominating more and more.”

New Hampshire’s situation is all the more remarkable given that four states — Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi and Vermont — have never sent a woman to Congress. And this cycle, there are four states — Mississippi, Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana — offering just one female Congressional candidate.

On the other end of the spectrum, women hold three out of the four slots in Maine’s Congressional delegation.

There are, however, more female Members of Congress than ever before. But the number of women running for Congress has dropped since hitting a high mark in the early to mid-1990s.

“When women are only 17 percent of the U.S. Congress in the first place, it’s not that they’re losing all of the other races, it’s that they’re not contesting them,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University and co-author of the newly released book, “It Still Takes A Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office.”

The New Hampshire contests have attracted the interest of multiple outside parties — from Palin to EMILY’s List to national labor groups. Their variety is a reminder that while the candidates may share the same sex, their ideologies are different.

“We haven’t talked about it,” Kuster said of the possibility of an all-female delegation. “I’m running against a woman in the primary. I could be running against a woman in the general election. It’s just not a remarkable event in New Hampshire anymore.”

She continued: “I’m far more focused on getting a delegation that’s all pro-choice from New Hampshire.”

Kuster noted that Ayotte is anti-abortion, while Swett previously favored some restrictions. (Specifically, Swett favored mandatory parental notification in 2002 but said she no longer feels that is necessary.)

Ayotte’s campaign declined to respond directly to the abortion criticism, but spokesman Jeff Grappone offered this statement: “Kelly’s candidacy is based on the strength of her record of leadership. She has delivered results for the people of New Hampshire. More than anything else that distinguishes her in this race.”

Kuster, previously a registered lobbyist for NARAL Pro-Choice America, earned the EMILY’s List endorsement, along with Shea-Porter.

“New Hampshire is a state that’s known for common sense, so it’s absolutely no surprise they’re fielding so many Democratic women,” EMILY’s List spokeswoman Jess McIntosh said. “Sen. Shaheen and Rep. Shea-Porter are already setting an excellent example of what progressive Democratic women do once they get elected. They get to work on the commonsense solutions our country needs right now. That’s what Ann McLane Kuster has always done as a community leader, and she’ll make New Hampshire proud in Washington.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, Palin made news last month by endorsing Ayotte in the Senate contest. But the endorsement may have had an unintended consequence in the historically independent state.

It produced a front-page editorial in the state’s largest newspaper — known for its conservative voice — that largely dismissed the endorsement.

“The race will be won by the candidate who impresses New Hampshire voters, and New Hampshire voters are rarely impressed by what outsiders have to say,” Manchester Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid wrote.

Swett, as expected, also questioned how helpful the Palin endorsement was. But she also said that generally speaking, more women are needed in politics.

“We have different experiences,” she said. “We bring more tools to the tool box than just the hammer.”