Ex-head of N.H. Dem party pushes Shaheen for Senate

When Kathy Sullivan stepped down as chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party earlier this year, she didn’t wait long to get involved in an intense grassroots movement: She and other viewers convinced CBS television to continue airing the show “Jericho.”

With that behind her, Sullivan has turned her attention to another grassroots effort. She is working to draft former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) into the 2008 Senate race against Sen. John Sununu (R).

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“I really want to see it happen,” Sullivan told The Hill. “Obviously, when I see her, I say, ‘Gee, I wish you’d run.’”

Sullivan said she needed a break after serving as the state party chairwoman, having rebuilt the party and captured both of the state’s congressional seats.

But after two months and a growing exasperation with the Bush administration and Sununu, Sullivan said, she decided it was time to get involved and show Shaheen just how dedicated she is to the idea.

Sullivan’s draft movement is just getting underway. It currently consists of her, her phone, an e-mail list and a call sheet, but she said a number of state lawmakers and National Democratic Committeeman Gaetan DiGangi have said they support the movement.

There are currently two announced candidates, Katrina Swett and Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand. Former astronaut Jay Buckey is exploring a bid.

Sullivan said her efforts to lure Shaheen into the race have nothing to do with the current field, comprised of candidates she said she considers friends.

“It’s not about the other candidates,” Sullivan said. “I just really want to beat Sununu.”

Marchand has said all along he would step aside if the former governor were to enter the race, a sentiment he reiterated yesterday.

“I share my friend Kathy Sullivan’s deep respect for Jeanne Shaheen,” Marchand said. “But I’m not running against Jeanne Shaheen. I’m running against John Sununu.”

Dean Spiliotes, research director at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, said Sununu’s vulnerability is related directly to the Democratic nominee.

Spiliotes said Swett and Marchand bring different attributes to the race, and he does not think “anybody’s willing to write them off.”

Yet, he added, they fail to compare to the level of star power and national and state connections that Shaheen enjoys.

“It’s a totally different story when you start talking about Jeanne Shaheen,” he said.

If she did enter, the race would be a “fascinating rematch” between the two state heavyweights, as Shaheen lost to Sununu 51 percent to 47 percent in 2002. That Election Day precipitated four convictions or guilty pleas, years of legal battles and a settled civil suit over a phone-jamming scandal allegedly perpetrated by Republican operatives.

An American Research Group poll conducted in March showed Shaheen leading Sununu 44 percent to 34 percent.

“I think [Shaheen] deserves another chance … because as we know, that last election wasn’t exactly clean,” Sullivan said.
DiGangi added that he would like to see how Shaheen would do against Sununu in a race that doesn’t involve any “hanky-panky.”

“You did have a race that was tampered with,” DiGangi said. “We’d love to have some retribution someday.”

Since 2002, New Hampshire has taken on a decidedly blue shade. Both congressional seats are filled by Democrats, and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won the state in the 2004 election. Bush had carried it in 2000.

Shaheen currently is working as director of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics (IOP) and was busy yesterday with the school’s commencement ceremonies.

IOP spokesman Esten Perez said Shaheen “appreciates the support but still has not made a decision.”

Shaheen met with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), earlier this year.

DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller said the committee continues to hope the former governor will get in the race, but added that the DSCC has no plans to get involved with the draft movement.

Spiliotes said Sullivan’s and Shaheen’s longtime relationship indicates more movement is happening below the surface than is readily apparent.

“[Shaheen has] been very quiet about it, but clearly there’s more stuff going on behind the scenes,” he said, adding that he sees a “fairly coordinated effort to try to coax her into the race.”

“If it were some unknowns [leading the draft movement] that would be a different story,” Spiliotes said.