Here, being female is a political advantage
A month before the last New Hampshire Primary I was having a beer with Hillary Clinton. At the time she was leading polls in nearly everywhere, except in Iowa where she curiously never led. For this there were two largely accepted explanations. First, when her husband first ran for president in 1992 Iowa had a favorite son in the race so Clinton didn't campaign there like he did in other states. Second, Iowa Democratic caucus goers are very liberal and recoiled against her centrist positioning for the general election.
But that night sipping a Blue Moon at The Exeter Inn she had her own theory: "I can't help believe that me being a woman is a big part of it," she said in a moment of candor. "Iowa, remember, has never had women take prominent roles in government and has never sent a woman to Congress."
There are studies, conferences, books and academic centers devoted to studying the role of women in politics. The nationwide numbers still suggest that the majority sex is still woefully under-represented in city councils, state legislatures and Congress. For a variety of reasons being a female candidate is a disadvantage nationwide, but in New Hampshire the opposite is true.
It is a fact little discussed, but the current political landscape speaks for itself. This year the State Senate grabbed national headlines for being the first legislative body with a female majority. The state's Senate President and House Speaker are both women as are the House and Senate majority leaders. We had the first Republican female governor. Jeanne Shaheen is the first woman to be elected both governor and U.S. Senator. And next year it is plausible that New Hampshire could become the only state with two female senators of opposing parties and the only state with an entirely female Congressional delegation.
The Granite State has a long history of electing women, but it hasn't always. In 1870, 50 years before women had the right to vote, Marilla Ricker tried unsuccessfully to vote in Dover's Ward 3. In 1910 she unsuccessfully ran for governor. In between those years debate about women in public office was robust. (To be fair, the idea was a non-starter in most parts.) At the 1902 state constitutional convention Edger Aldridge, a Littleton lawyer and later a federal judge, successfully engineered opposition to repealing the word "male" in the constitution for office holders. He also opposed limiting debate to five minutes "because if a man finds himself in the opposition to the women, even in the little things of life, it requires more than five minutes to explain it."
But just 18 years later the state Legislature sanctioned women on the ballot and the first two were elected to the House that year. Ten years after that, in 1930, the first woman was elected to the State Senate.
Fast forward nearly 80 years later to this summer. There is a once-in-a-generation open seat for the United States Senate and who is the dream pick for Republicans? The first female state Attorney General KellyAyotte.
Before she even announced her candidacy, the state's top pollster sized up her chances to the Associated Press: Being a woman, he said, might earn her an extra two or three percentage points.
In New Hampshire a woman's place is in the House ... or the Senate. And in terms of the presidency, Clinton received third place in the Iowa Caucuses, but her surprise win in the New Hampshire Primary dramatically altered the race. NH
This article appears in the September 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine