BOSTON, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- New Hampshire, one of a handful of states never to have elected a woman to Congress, has the rare opportunity to send three of them to Washington this fall.
The Democrats nominated a full slate of female candidates in Tuesday's primary, one for the U.S. Senate and two for the House of Representatives.
Jeanne Shaheen, who served as governor for six years, won without opposition in the Democratic Senate primary while Martha Fuller Clark captured the nomination in the 1st Congressional District and 2nd District voters chose Katrina Swett.
"All three are extremely strong candidates and bring the message of progress for the voters of the state," Alex Behrend, the communications director for the New Hampshire Democratic Party," told United Press International.
John Dowd, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, said there is "a great deal of significance" to the Shaheen race against GOP nominee U.S. Rep John E. Sununu.
"It's one of the most important races in the country," he told UPI, "the reasons for which are pretty well-known, the Senate being 50-49-1 (Democratic majority), and there being relatively few races that are sort of close, and this is one of them."
Sununu ousted incumbent Sen. Robert C. Smith in Tuesday's primary. Smith, 61, who represented New Hampshire in Congress for 17 years, the last 12 in the Senate, apparently paid the price for leaving the GOP briefly to run for president as an independent in 1999.
After his victory on his 38th birthday, Sununu, the son of former Gov. John H. Sununu, the first President Bush's chief of staff, said the Republican Party now has to join together "to achieve one shared goal, and that is to send Jeanne Shaheen back to the private sector."
While recent pre-primary polls show Sununu with an edge when matched up against Shaheen -- derided by opponents as a Hillary Clinton-style tax-and-spend Democrat -- most observers expect a tight race.
"While I don't put a lot of stock in polls," Dowd said, "the polls that were taken going back months show Congressman Sununu winning by varying amounts. He is an extremely strong, dedicated, conservative Republican, a very strong candidate."
Republicans see New Hampshire playing a huge role in their plans to retake the Senate. Thirty-four of the 100 Senate seats are up for grabs in November. Of those 34, 20 are Republicans, 14 Democrats. Democrats hold a 50-49 overall edge with one independent.
In her victory speech Tuesday night, Clark, a veteran state legislator, said she learned the lessons of the values of hard work, honesty and thrift growing up on a small New England farm.
"Now, I want to take those lessons I learned on the farm to Washington, to stand up for New Hampshire families," Clark said.
She will face state Rep. Jeb Bradley, who pulled out a narrow victory over seven others in the GOP 1st District primary. Bradley, a Republican who supports abortion rights, said his top priorities in Congress would be defense and the economy.
Swett, a political consultant and wife of former U.S. Rep. Dick Swett, will face eight-year veteran GOP Congressman Charlie Bass in November. Both won their primaries in overwhelming fashion.
"The voters are going to have a very clear choice in November," Bass said, touting his eight years in Congress.
"He's accomplished little in his eight years down in Washington," said Swett, vowing to bring a "fresh enthusiasm" to Congress.
"Unlike Charlie Bass," Swett said, "I'm not a career politician. I am a mother of seven, an attorney, and I'm finishing a Ph.D. in human rights and U.S. foreign policy."
Swett's father, U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., is serving his 11th term in Congress.
"I think voters need to ask themselves whose side these Republicans are on, and to a one (sic) they continue to coddle corporate wrongdoers," Behrend said, "and they are allies of polluters. Gov. Shaheen is going to stand up to these interests."
Behrend said independents make up the largest segment of the electorate in New Hampshire, and that all three Democratic congressional candidates are "all well-positioned to rally those voters."
"These are very exciting times," said Dowd, adding he is "absolutely looking forward to" taking on the Democrats this fall.