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The low-profile senator
Four years in, former governor focuses on jobs

04/12/12



While some politicos have recently bandied about New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s name as a potential vice presidential pick for Mitt Romney, New Hampshire’s senior senator is keeping a relatively low profile.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, always known as a moderate Democrat, has spent the first four years of her first term positioning herself right in the center. She’s taken some stands on social issues when Democrats have called for it, but for the most part, when she’s stuck her neck out on issues, she probably had the vast majority of Granite Staters on her side — issues like supporting a new VA medical center or keeping the Portsmouth Shipyard active.

“It’s been interesting the last couple years with the partisan divide in the 2010 midterm election. It’s been so divisive and so partisan, but she really hasn’t been in the discussion that much, and it’s probably intentional,” said political analyst Dean Spiliotes. “Her goal is to be seen by the broadest cross-section of the state possible. She’s been very careful picking and choosing her ideological battles.”
So many members of Congress pick hard lines on controversial issues like contraception and abortion or even on budgetary issues. Republicans have picked plenty of fights with President Barack Obama on budget and financial issues. Shaheen just hasn’t been in the thick of those fights.

“I think that’s pretty smart strategy for her,” Spiliotes said.

Shaheen has made her core issues jobs and the economy, and she’s brought those issues home to New Hampshire. She recently spent time touring the North Country.

“Her strategy is to take the stands she needs to on principle, but to not necessarily get caught up in the ideological battles,” Spiliotes said.

She wants to be viewed as a good public servant. She comes from sort of the old school of Democratic politics, in the mold of the Democratic Leadership Council. Her politics are more in line with moderate Democrats like the Clintons, Joe Lieberman and Gov. John Lynch, Spiliotes said. Shaheen is certainly not overly progressive, unlike former Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes.

“Shaheen is not somebody who antagonizes people, and that … helps her appeal to a broad cross-section of voters, but also to do her part for the party,” Spiliotes said.

2014

With a presidential election year in the crosshairs this year, 2014 sure seems like quite a ways away. A lot will depend on how things go this year, but no doubt some key Republicans are eying Shaheen’s seat.

Political officials say incumbents are often the most vulnerable the first time they face reelection.

Some will likely suggest John E. Sununu to match up against her once again, for the third time. Shaheen lost to Sununu, following three terms as governor, in 2002, and then beat him in 2008.

“Part of it depends on how the next election goes, how strong Democrats are,” Spiliotes said.

The political tide is difficult to predict. Hodes announced he would run for Senate in 2010 just a couple months after he was reelected to Congress. The move seemed like a good one since Democrats had all the momentum. But in a matter of a couple more months, the momentum was gone and Hodes was more or less left hanging in the wind. So predicting the tide in 2014 is an impossible task.
Regardless of who it is, Republicans are probably going to try to paint Shaheen as a big-government Democrat, whether it’s a good fit or not. At this point, Spiliotes said Shaheen doesn’t appear particularly vulnerable.

Obviously, a lot can change in two years, but her political mold wouldn’t suggest she’ll be doing anything particularly controversial one way or the other. If she’s to go down, the guess here is that it will have more to do with a political wave of some kind than anything she does that sets the opposition on fire.

“We won’t know probably until after the next election,” Spiliotes said.

The model of bipartisanship, or nonpartisanship

While Shea-Porter and Hodes — both of the progressive wing of the party — were unabashed Obama supporters, Shaheen is more of the Hillary Clinton wing of the party. New Hampshire Democrats are at least somewhat split between the more progressive, Obama, Blue Hampshire wing and the more centrist, Clinton wing — not that the split is nearly as marked as the split between establishment Republicans and Tea Party Republicans.

Shaheen, much like Lynch, strives for bipartisanship. Spiliotes said he didn’t expect Shaheen to play a high-profile role in Obama’s reelection effort in New Hampshire. Hodes stuck his neck out early in 2008, with his endorsement of Obama.

“I don’t necessarily view her as part of the Obama, progressive coalition,” Spiliotes said. “It doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a good relationship with him. She’ll probably function more as a general election cheerleader.”

Progressives sometimes criticize Lynch for his moderate stances, but they’re no doubt happy when he wins year after year. Shaheen probably fits that same profile.

“I think [Democrats] are happy to have any [Democrat] hold onto a seat, given the beating they took in 2010,” Spiliotes said. “Progressive activists, she might not be their exact cup of tea, but they’re probably pretty happy typically, as she’s a pretty good politician when it comes to winning elections.”

Shaheen wants to be viewed as fairly nonpartisan, but she’s going to support enough of the party’s stances to make sure she has that core support as well. In a six-year term, she doesn’t gain much by sticking her neck out early and often.

“She doesn’t get involved in all the bickering,” Spiliotes said.

Compare Shaheen to someone like Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a former presidential candidate: Bachmann has been out in front trying to lead the Republican caucus against Obama and government spending. Shaheen has a very different approach, Spiliotes said.

“She’s always been that way,” Spiliotes said.

That model probably comes from her time as governor, a time when Republicans held control of the House and the Senate. She had to be able to work with Republicans if she wanted to get anything done. That approach appears to have carried over. That’s how candidates got elected at that time — by showing they could work with Republicans. In the same way, Lynch can be tough when he needs to be on certain issues, but that’s not his default setting.

“It’s just a different model of how to work at the national level,” Spiliotes said. “When you do hear from her … it’s mainly jobs and the economy. She just doesn’t get caught up in the partisan polarizing wars.”






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