THERE ARE some Republicans in New Hampshire who have never gotten over the success that Jeanne Shaheen has had in winning elections in the Granite State.
It was bad enough that her first election as governor broke what had been a 16-year grip on the corner office; her victory also was the beginning of a Democratic resurgence in the Granite State. But certain Republicans have never been able to bring themselves to give Shaheen any credit for her accomplishments. Instead, they like to come up with excuses for her victories.
One is that in 1996, she was on the ballot with Bill Clinton, a popular figure in New Hampshire. This excuse ignores the fact that Shaheen actually outperformed Clinton, 284,175 votes to 246,214.
Another excuse is that she has had weak opponents. That does not hold up to scrutiny, either, as in two of her three campaigns for governor, she did run against competitive Republicans. In 1996, Shaheen beat Ovide Lamontagne, a Manchester attorney who was the well-known chair of the New Hampshire State Board of Education and who ran an aggressive campaign. Admittedly, she did crush Jay Lucas in 1998, who was one of the worst candidates ever to appear on a New Hampshire ballot.
But in 2000, her opponent was former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, who also ran a well-financed, aggressive campaign. He still lost. And it is difficult to claim that John E. Sununu was a weak candidate in 2002, when he defeated Shaheen for the United States Senate, or in 2008, when Shaheen returned the favor by taking the seat.
Now comes former New Hampshire Republican chairman Fergus Cullen with a new and novel excuse. He has written a column that says “Gender has provided a huge tailwind in Shaheen’s political career…” Yes, Cullen actually is making the claim that Jeanne Shaheen has won all of her elections because — she is a woman. However, being the sneaky female that she is, she is not overt about appealing to, in Fergus’s words, “girl power.” Instead, she apparently used the secret sisterhood code by serving on the Commission on the Status of Women and associating with the Women’s Lobby and NARAL, which tipped us females off to the fact that Shaheen might be one of us.
Cullen then tries to prove his point by citing the numerical advantage Shaheen has had with women voters, including Republican women, over her male opponents. In his opinion, women have either voted for Shaheen because of socially conservative male Republican nominees, or because, gee whiz, she was a one woman novelty act. He then says the novelty is wearing off, because he ran into two – yes, that is right, two – women at a Scott Brown event who are, to Fergus, “the type of voters who have provided Shaheen her margin of victory....” If his analysis was any less scientific, he would be claiming the earth was flat.
I suspect that Fergus Cullen does not have a clue as to how belittling his column is to New Hampshire voters, particularly women voters. In the real world, women vote for candidates based on qualifications, issues and the quality of the candidate. We do not vote based on a knee jerk reaction to the gender of the candidate. I think that is how men vote, too, except perhaps a few inhabitants of Planet Fergus.
Jeanne Shaheen wins elections because voters trust her to do what is right for New Hampshire. As governor, she worked tirelessly on economic issues, such as organizing trade missions to increase export opportunities for local businesses. As one long-time Republican activist has put it, Granite State business people have a comfort level with Shaheen because she knows them and has worked with them. She also has been a champion for public education, setting the stage for universal kindergarten, and steering through the shoals of the state’s unique tax structure to provide state financial support for education.
In the Senate, when a bill to extend unemployment benefits would have bypassed New Hampshire and other states with lower unemployment rates, Shaheen put the brakes on the bill until our state’s needs were addressed. She has always worked with Republicans, Democrats and independents. In the U.S. Senate, she has teamed with Republican John McCain on ending duplicative government spending, and Republican Rob Portman on energy efficiency. She does not win just because we women vote for women because, you know, we’re women.
In other words, Jeanne Shaheen gets elected because she has a record of doing an excellent job for the people of New Hampshire.
Does Fergus Cullen really believe that Jeanne Shaheen wins elections because she us a woman? Or is he trying to downplay her accomplishments because Scott Brown, the favored candidate in the Republican senate primary, has a record of doing nothing for New Hampshire (and little for the people of Massachusetts, for that matter)? Regardless, women voters will vote for the candidate with the proven record of putting New Hampshire first.
Kathy Sullivan is a Manchester attorney and member of the Democratic National Committee. She was chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1999-2007.