N.H. Female Leadership May Fall

Monday, October 27, 2014
Concord — New Hampshire has a long history of electing women, but its tenure as the only state with an all-female delegation in Washington could come to an end after two short years.

Democrats Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster were elected to the U.S. House in 2012, joining Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and Republican Kelly Ayotte. At least two of those seats will continue to be held by women after Nov. 4: Ayotte isn’t up for re-election, and for the first time, two women are running against each other for a New Hampshire Congressional seat — Kuster and Republican Marilinda Garcia. But Shea-Porter and Shaheen face male Republican challengers, Frank Guinta and Scott Brown.

Shaheen, the first woman elected governor in New Hampshire and the state’s first female U.S. senator, argues that women can’t trust Brown on equal pay, reproductive rights and access to contraceptives. She has hammered Brown for sponsoring legislation as a state senator that would have required women to be given graphic images of developing fetuses and to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. Though he won’t say whether he still supports those provisions, Brown argues that his main intention was to promote adoption and insists he is an “independent, pro-choice” Republican.

The back-and-forth has only solidified Republican voter Betty Denison’s support for Brown.

“At first, I was like, ‘I hope we don’t get stuck with him,’ but the more I listen, the more impressed I am,” said Denison, a 49-year-old accountant from Dunbarton, N.H. “I just think (Democrats) try to go after people on emotion, instead of the reality of the economy and things that really matter. They take one word and they smear the other person, and to me, that’s just a turn-off.”

New Hampshire was not only the first state to have an all-female Congressional delegation — it also was the first to have a female governor, state Senate president and House speaker at the same time and the first to have a female majority in its state Senate.

Those achievements don’t necessarily mean that New Hampshire voters are more receptive to female candidates, said Dartmouth College professor Deborah Brooks. Rather, it’s likely that New Hampshire’s extremely large citizen Legislature provides an easy entry into politics and a unique training ground for women, she said. Both Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan started in the state Senate; Garcia is a state representative.

“More women are willing to make that first plunge into state-level politics in New Hampshire, and then many of them get the bug and continue to move up the ranks,” Brooks, whose research challenges the conventional wisdom that women are held to higher standards of qualification and behavior than men, said.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, 18 women are running for U.S. Senate and 166 for the House this year, and a record 16 races feature women running against women.

Debbie Walsh, the center’s director, said Democrats nationwide are using Shaheen’s strategy of emphasizing specific issues such as access to contraception. Republicans — hoping to minimize the gender gap that traditionally favors Democrats — have responded by saying, “I’m speaking to all the issues, and women’s lives are touched by all these issues,” she said.

“I think the big takeaway from watching all of this is what power women voters have in this election cycle,” Walsh said.

Shaheen captured about 60 percent of the female vote in her 2008 win over Republican John E. Sununu, according to exit polls. Recent polls show her with a smaller advantage among women compared to Brown, though she is viewed much more favorably by women than he is.

Catharine Newick, an economist and independent voter from Canterbury, N.H., said she’s backing Shaheen based on her accomplishments as governor and senator. She thinks Brown is “obsessed” with border security and “talks as if we are naive and stupid.”

While she is proud of New Hampshire’s all-female delegation, Newick, 67, said she wouldn’t hesitate to vote for a man she thought was better. She’s voting for Kuster over Garcia because she believes the incumbent understands what the state needs for jobs, infrastructure, health care and education.

“I don’t view these as necessarily women’s issues. They are what is needed for families,” she said.

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