New Hampshire gubernatorial candidates Maggie Hassan and Ovide Lamontagne.
New Hampshire gubernatorial candidates Maggie Hassan and Ovide Lamontagne.

Credit: Gary Lerude on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

(WOMENSENEWS)–Maggie Hassan’s quest for the governorship of New Hampshire puts her under the magnifying lens for those tracking women in politics.

She is the only woman running for governor this year and if she loses there won’t be a single female Democratic governor left in the entire country.

Democratic governors Christine Gregoire of Washington and Bev Purdue of North Carolina are both retiring. Two others, Kathleen Sebelius and Janet Napolitano, were plucked from their posts in 2008 to serve as secretaries of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, respectively, under President Barack Obama.

It’s a numbers problem, said Jess McIntosh, spokesperson for the Washington-based EMILY’s List, a political action committee that supports pro-choice female candidates.

It’s a low tide year for governor races, with only 13 statehouses under contention. Only six of those races are open-seat contests with no incumbent; the contests that often give female candidates their entry point.

“It is disappointing that there’s only one woman and she’s a Democrat,” said Suzanne Terrell, co-chair of ShePAC, a group dedicated to electing Republican women. “We still have more Republican women governors.”

Four GOP women are state governors and all–Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Mary Fallin in Oklahoma, Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Jan Brewer in Arizona — were first elected in 2010. (As Arizona’s secretary of state, Brewer became governor in 2009 after Napolitano resigned, but was herself elected in 2010.)

If Hassan loses, these four will be the only female governors left, meaning just eight percent of governors will be women.

Potential Senate Boost

In contrast to the possible sag in the ranks of female governors, U.S. Senate races are likely to increase women’s ranks, to a possible 21 percent from a current 17 percent.

The 12 Democratic female senators currently in office could add four more this year, expanding their ranks by a third.

Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts is pushing to unseat incumbent Sen. Scott Brown, while in Nevada, Rep. Shelley Berkley is challenging current Republican Sen. Dean Heller. The New York Times’ political calculator has Heller and Berkley virtually tied.

Reps. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and Mazie Hirono in Hawaii are vying for open seats against former governors Tommy Thompson and Linda Lingle, respectively.

Republican women, meanwhile, have a chance to hang on to their current five seats.

While Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Texas’ Kay Bailey Hutchison are both retiring, two GOP candidates stand a good chance of winning.

Linda McMahon is running a tight race in Connecticut against Chris Murphy and state legislator Deb Fischer is favored to win in Nebraska against a former state legislator, Bob Kerrey.

Heather Wilson’s GOP campaign in New Mexico holds little promise as she lags consistently behind, according to RealClearPolitics, and Linda Lingle in Hawaii is not expected to win against the Democrats’ Mazie Hirono.

At EMILY’s List, McIntosh said Hassan has a good shot at beating her GOP opponent Ovide Lamontagne, a lawyer she describes as having an “anti-woman agenda” who ran for governor in 1996 and lost to current U.S. Sen. Jean Shaheen.

‘Extreme Right Wing’

New Hampshire is a moderate state and McIntosh said Lamontagne “is one of the most extreme right wing Republicans running in the country right now.”

In his failed 2010 Senate Republican primary, Lamontagne argued at a debate, “I am pro-life, period. I support a Human Life Amendment that would declare explicitly what I believe the constitution provides…that is that life begins at the moment of conception. Unfortunately we have judge-made laws that recognize the so-called right to an abortion.”

In June, New Hampshire’s legislature – which appears to have taken a sharp right turn in recent years — overrode the current Democratic governor to pass a “partial birth abortion” ban.

The term is medically meaningless, but the New Hampshire law includes a potentially onerous requirement: the health exemption requires two doctors from different hospitals to certify that a late-term abortion is necessary before a woman can have one.

Andrew Smith, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., and director of the UNH Survey Center, has doubts that the pro-choice Hassan will win.

“Hassan is going to be trying to call attention to abortion,” Smith said, in order to

get her opponent off message and pull women to the voting booth. “I think that will be one of the strategies of Hassan campaign.”

But Smith said a number of forces are going against Hassan.

A hard-fought primary drained her campaign coffers and he sees Lamontagne as more charismatic. Hassan’s opponent is also more hawkish on taxes, a popular stance in a state with no income or sales tax. The Republican contender will hammer home that Hassan held a more tax-friendly position while in the state legislature, Smith said.

At EMILY’s List, McIntosh says 2014 will likely produce more female candidates for governor since there will be 37 races, a hearty 24 more than this year.

Samantha Kimmey is a writer in Brooklyn, N.Y., covering women and politics this election season.

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