Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D)
New Hampshire 1st District
The greatest growth in New Hampshire over the past two decades has been in the southeast and south-central parts of the state—the Seacoast and the Manchester area. Manchester was once famous for the Amoskeag Mills, the world’s largest textile mill complex. In the first half of the 20th century, it was the quintessential mill town, with a few mansions for mill owners and managers and closely packed neighborhoods of frame houses for mill workers, many of them immigrants—from Quebec, Ireland, and Greece (Manchester has America’s largest percentage of Greek-Americans). By the beginning of the 21st century, it was something quite different: a high-tech city, with big shopping malls at freeway interchanges, a spiffy new airport and downtown arena, spruced-up neighborhoods, and growth extending to the wooded suburbs all around. The Seacoast, within easy commuting distance of Massachusetts, is a collection of towns of ancient pedigree and high-tech growth. The biggest city on the coast is Portsmouth, the colonial capital of New Hampshire, with its busy naval shipyard and old seaport with well-preserved houses and a solid local economy that includes many galleries and bars.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Pease Air Force Base, shuttered in 1991, has been successfully redeveloped as the Pease International Tradeport, with office buildings and an airplane runway, resulting in the addition of more than 160 businesses and nearly 10,000 jobs in the Seacoast, as the region along the state’s 18-mile coast is known. Not far to the southwest are Stratham, where Swiss chocolate maker Lindt completed in 2007 a multimillion-dollar expansion, and Exeter, home of Phillips Exeter Academy, the elite boarding school. A quarter of New Hampshire residents claim French or French-Canadian ties; racial minorities are sparse here.
The 1st Congressional District of New Hampshire includes the Manchester area and the Seacoast from Manchester and next-door Bedford, its most affluent suburb, east to Portsmouth. It also extends north to Laconia and gentrifying Lake Winnipesaukee, studded with summer resorts and new mansions, and Ossipee in Carroll County. Politically, this is the slightly more Republican of New Hampshire’s two congressional districts. It was the destination of many people fleeing high taxes in Massachusetts. Manchester, the largest city in the state, still has more registered Democrats than Republicans—a relic of its mill town days—but usually votes Republican in general elections. Portsmouth, with its trendy coffee shops, is Democratic, as are Durham, home of the University of New Hampshire, and nearby Dover, once a mill town. Most of the smaller towns in the Seacoast and to the north have been solidly Republican, though that is changing. George W. Bush narrowly carried the district twice, but Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama won it 53%-47% in 2008, despite Republican nominee John McCain’s past popularity here.
Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: Dec. 2, 1952, New York, NY .
Education: U. of NH, B.A. 1975, M.P.A. 1979.
Family: Married (Gene); 2 children.
Professional Career: Social worker; Comm. col. instructor; Lecturer.
The congresswoman from the 1st District is Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat elected in one of the biggest upsets of 2006. She was born in New York City and grew up in a large extended family in New Hampshire. After her high school guidance counselor recommended she go to secretary school, Shea-Porter figured she could do better and enrolled in the University of New Hampshire. She worked her way through college and graduate school, ultimately getting a master’s degree in public administration. She moved to Colorado with her husband, an officer stationed at an Army medical center. There she witnessed soldiers returning from the Vietnam War in need of medical and psychological care, an experience that would contribute to her anti-war candidacy decades later. She and her family moved to New Orleans, and then to the Washington, D.C., area, before returning to New Hampshire. Shea-Porter worked as a social worker, directed programs for senior citizens, and lectured at a community college. She worked on retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s 2004 presidential primary campaign and served as the chairman of the Rochester Democrats, cultivating a network of liberal activists. She started following Republican U.S. Rep. Jeb Bradley from event to event, asking pointed questions about the issues. She got the media’s attention with a stunt in February 2005. Shea-Porter was escorted from a town hall meeting with President Bush after she removed her sweater to reveal a T-shirt that read, “Turn your back on Bush.” On relief trips to New Orleans, she concluded that the federal government had failed to help its citizens recover from Hurricane Katrina and decided to run for Congress.
|Carol Shea-Porter (D)||176,435||(52%)||($1,576,897)|
|Jeb Bradley (R)||156,338||(46%)||($1,447,187)|
|Robert Kingsbury (Lib)||8,100||(2%)|
|Carol Shea-Porter (D)||20,839||(98%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (51%)
Taking on Bradley, Shea-Porter campaigned as staunchly against the war in Iraq, advocated the creation of a federal institute dedicated to reducing dependence on foreign oil, and called for a nationalized health care system. National Democrats questioned her viability in a general election, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee backed state House Minority Leader Jim Craig in the four-way primary. Craig proved to be a disappointing candidate. He ran well in his Manchester base but lost nearly everywhere else in the district. Shea-Porter had assembled a deeply committed grassroots network that turned out many voters. She won 54%-34%, a surprise to political observers: “Oh my God, I think I’m going to faint,” she told supporters on primary night.
Shea-Porter entered the general election a decided underdog. She was outspent by more than 3-to-1. Bradley defended Bush on the Iraq war and argued that withdrawing troops would destabilize the Middle East. Polls showed Bradley leading narrowly but hampered by Bush’s unpopularity. The largest union at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which Bradley helped protect during the 2005 base-closing round, endorsed Shea-Porter. Three weeks before the election, national Republican strategists recognized Shea-Porter’s late surge and dispatched help to Bradley. National Democrats remained skeptical and instead pumped $1 million into the neighboring 2nd District to help candidate Paul Hodes, who won. Shea-Porter won 51%-49%. The victory surprised Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, the former governor of neighboring Vermont, who could not remember Shea-Porter’s name in a morning-after press conference.
In the House, Shea-Porter established a centrist voting record. In June 2008, she joined most Democrats in voting against Iraq war funding. On the Education and Labor Committee, she has sought major changes in the Bush administration’s 2001 No Child Left Behind education law, which she compared to a “beautiful-looking car [that] doesn’t start.”
Shea-Porter has focused on legislation affecting families. Her main bill would protect family savings in the case of a costly medical crisis by sheltering $250,000 in home value from debt collectors. She has also sponsored legislation to reverse restrictions placed on the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act during Bush’s two terms. Among other changes, it would end limitations on the use of accrued paid leave if a worker invokes the act to take time off and prohibit the denial of attendance bonuses when a worker takes an FMLA-sanctioned leave of absence.
Shea-Porter was a prime campaign target for Republicans in 2008. Bradley wanted a rematch against her, but first faced a primary race with John Stephen, the former New Hampshire health commissioner. Stephen criticized Bradley for having supported wasteful spending during his two terms in Congress, but Bradley won 51%-46%. In the general election contest, he faced a better-financed Shea-Porter, who was finally getting help from the national party. She sought to link Bradley to Bush, while he criticized the policies of the liberal-dominated Democratic majority in Congress. Shea-Porter won 52%-46%.
Following the election, she briefly considered a run for the open New Hampshire Senate seat in 2010 but decided against it. She would have had a primary contest with the other New Hampshire House member, Hodes, who had announced his candidacy for the Senate. However, she can expect competition to keep her seat in 2010. Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, a Republican, has said he would run against her.