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Number of women running for office in NH could break record

By Dave Solomon
New Hampshire Union Leader

August 16. 2018 11:56PM

CONCORD — The record for women elected to the New Hampshire Legislature could be toppled this year, according to the New Hampshire Women's Foundation.

The high-water mark for women serving in the state Senate and House was in 2008, when the number stood at 159, according to Sarah Mattson Dustin, director of policy for the New Hampshire Women's Foundation.

“In that year, 249 women ran (for the state Legislature) in the general election,” she said. “Right now, we see 288 in the primary. We need to see what happens after the primary to see if women are in a position to beat that 2008 mark.”

According to the non-partisan Cook Political Report, “Lots of folks are throwing around the phrase ‘Year of the Woman’ to describe the 2018 election. And, understandably so.” Of the 56 most competitive House races in the country, 28 (or 50 percent) feature a viable woman candidate.

The Granite State has seen a nearly 10 percent increase over 2016 in the number of women running in the primary election for county, state and federal office, going from 306 to 335, according to a “Gender Matters” fact sheet released by the Women's Foundation on Wednesday.

The research, funded by Eastern Bank and coordinated by St. Anselm professor of politics Jennifer Lucas, slices and dices the data on women candidates by election year, office, party and county.

“We're hearing a lot about this being another year of the woman, which had been used in reference to 1992 — the year Americans sent more women to Congress than ever before,” said Mattson Dustin. “We are hearing lots of predictions that this might be another year like that. Around the country, we know that more women are running for office than ever before.”

Primary elections across the country so far have produced 28 congressional or gubernatorial match-ups in which both the Democratic and Republican nominees are women.

“It's an extraordinary moment in time, and we wanted to see if this is happening in New Hampshire,” said Mattson Dustin. “We've analyzed the breakdown of the Legislature before, but we always did it post general election. This is the first time we are taking a look at who has filed in the primary. We wanted to compare to 2016 to see what direction we're moving in.”

Incremental change

The change has been incremental, but significant nonetheless, she said.

In 2016, women made up 30 percent of candidates running for county, state and federal office, compared to 32 percent in 2018. Women made up 41 percent of Democratic candidates in 2016, compared to 44 percent in 2018. On the Republican side of the ballot, women went from 20 percent to 21 percent.

The biggest shift is in the House, where women were 30 percent of the candidates in the 2016 primary compared to 33 percent in 2018.

New Hampshire's House of Representatives has 400 members, so the vast majority of women candidates in the state are running for state representative.

Below is a fact sheet from the New Hampshire Women's Foundation:

The percentage of women candidates varies greatly depending on the elected office, according to the foundation report, which states, “A whopping 81 percent of candidates for county register of deeds were women in both years, while no women ran for county sheriff in either year.”

There are also regional differences. Grafton County is the closest to achieving gender parity among candidates (49 percent women in 2018, up from 43 percent in 2016), while Cheshire County had the lowest percentage of women candidates in both years (21 percent versus 20 percent).

“Clearly there has been an uptick in every category, with both parties, and that I think is exciting," said Mattson Dustin, who described the foundation's “Women Run!” program, a statewide nonpartisan effort to inspire more women to run for office.

“While we are incredibly proud of our all-female congressional delegation, you don't have to go much deeper than that to see we are nowhere near gender parity in New Hampshire at the state level, and are in the middle of the pack for New England states,” she said.

“That's one of the reasons we have invested in our Women Run! program, to help raise awareness of how much room for growth there is for women interested in serving their communities.”

Deciding to run

One of those women is Candace Moulton, a first-time candidate for state representative in Hillsborough District 44, with two seats. The district is comprised of Manchester Wards 8 and 9 and Litchfield. Heather Ledux of Litchfield is the only other Democrat in the primary, so both women will appear on the general election ballot.

Rhonda Lambert of Litchfield is running in a three-way Republican primary for the two open seats against incumbent Republicans Mark Proulx and Mark McLean.

The district is an example of the dynamic in many races, as three women vie for a seat held by two men, both multi-term incumbents.

Moulton, a registered nurse who works full time at Concord Hospital, has worked on political campaigns before, but this year decided to become a candidate.

She is among 21 alumnae of the Women Run! program on the primary ballot. Women Run! is often offered in cooperation with “VoteRunLead,” a national program that has trained thousands of women to run for office and aims to train 30,000 more by 2020.

“It was great to be surrounded by other women who were also running,” said Moulton. “Some were running for reelection, and some for the first time, so we talked about their experiences, how fulfilling it was to be in office, what it's like to run, and a lot of election pointers. It made it sound doable. Not that it's not a lot of work, but it is indeed achievable.”

Mattson Dustin says there is no downside to more women running for elective office.

“We know from abundant and growing research that the more diverse the decision-making body is, the better decisions they are going to make,” she said. “We think a government that looks more like the population of New Hampshire, which is half women, is going to do a better job for New Hampshire. It's really valuable to note that across the country this movement that is lifting more women into office is more diverse and inclusive than any kind of movement before.”

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