Both Hassan, a lawyer from Exeter and former senate majority leader, and Shea-Porter, who won back the post she held for four years beginning in 2007, were voted out of office in 2010, when tea party supporters swept to victory. Kuster lost a bid for Congress in 2010.
New Hampshire’s small size, legislative map and libertarian streak helped propel the women into the record books.
Its 1.3 million residents are represented by 424 state lawmakers, one of the largest English-speaking governing bodies in the world. That makes the barriers to entry lower than elsewhere. Candidates need to raise less money, achieve less name recognition and secure fewer votes to win, said Dante Scala, who teaches politics at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
“That has benefited women who have pursued office,” Scala said. “Once the first women have blazed the trail, it becomes easier for more to get elected because voters are more used to seeing women in power.”
Jackie Cilley, who lost to Hassan in the gubernatorial primary, said she spent less than $500 on her first campaign for state representative in 2004.
“If you had any presence on the school board, you had all the name recognition you need,” she said. “Some people didn’t even put out signs.”
With so many offices to fill, parties need to expand beyond the typically male-dominated pools of potential candidates. State lawmakers earn an annual salary of only $100, which deters many who seek to make politics a career, Scala said.
“The culture here is very participatory,” he said. “We have a lot of activist, amateur involvement, not strong party machines like the Democrats in Massachusetts or New York, and so there’s a lot of room for politically interested people to operate even if they don’t have a lot of experience.”
Hassan’s entrance into politics was marked by two conditions that often prompt women to seek office. She was asked by others to run and she was involved in a social cause close to her heart and family life. In Hassan’s case, it was activism on behalf of a son with a disability.