IOP Head Atop '08 Race for N.H. Seat

The director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, Jeanne Shaheen, emerged last week as the top Democratic hopeful in New Hampshire’s 2008 Senate race—but she still hasn’t said whether or not she will throw her hat into the ring.

After a top aide to New Hampshire Governor John Lynch confirmed last Thursday that the first-term Democrat doesn’t intend to run for senator, Shaheen became the party’s best chance to win the ’08 race, observers say.

Shaheen, who was appointed IOP chief in 2005, served three terms as the Granite State’s first female governor before losing her 2002 Senate bid to Republican John E. Sununu by about 19,000 votes—just 4 percent of all ballots cast.

But it’s still not clear that Shaheen will challenge Sununu to a rematch.

“Jeanne is really enjoying her work with students and faculty at the Institute of Politics, and has no other plans at this time,” IOP spokesman Esten Perez wrote in an e-mail. In an interview with Boston Globe blogger James Pindell posted to the paper’s Web site Friday, Shaheen said she has “not ruled out” running for Senate in 2008.

Shaheen was elected New Hampshire’s first female governor in 1996 and served as the national chair for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign before joining the IOP. She could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Among the possible ’08 Democratic contenders, “there isn’t anybody close to her in credibility,” said Dartmouth Professor of Government Linda L. Fowler.

The director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, Andrew E. Smith, agreed. “I think she’s got an excellent chance. She’s got name recognition. She was a popular governor,” said Smith, also an associate professor of political science at the university.

Other than Shaheen, “nobody on the Democratic bench has the name recognition or political experience to take on Sununu,” Smith said, adding that “the national party will not want to invest a lot of money on an unknown candidate.”

But Smith said that winning the general election may be a “difficult challenge” for Shaheen, as it would be “a very close race between two big name people.”