Democrat Ann McLane Kuster avenged her nail-biting loss of two years ago, in which she lost to Republican Charlie Bass by 3,500 votes in one of the country’s closest House races. In doing so, she toppled one of the House’s few remaining GOP moderates.
Kuster was born in Concord and is part of a prominent political family in the Granite State. Her great-grandfather John McLane served as governor of New Hampshire from 1905 to 1907, while her father, Malcolm McLane, was mayor of Concord and an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in 1972. Her mother, Susan McLane, was a Republican state legislator for 25 years. “Politics was sort of a way of life in our family,” Kuster said in an interview.
When Kuster was 16, she worked on the failed 1972 presidential campaign of Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-Calif., an anti-Vietnam War candidate who challenged President Nixon. Kuster later graduated from Dartmouth College in 1978 and worked in McCloskey’s Washington office for three years. During that time, she specialized in foreign policy and traveled to South Africa, where the apartheid system was still in place, and to newly independent Zimbabwe.
Kuster subsequently earned her law degree from Georgetown University in 1984 and then returned to Manchester to practice law. She spent many years in Concord as a state-based lobbyist and adoption lawyer. “I represented women with unplanned pregnancies from age 14 to 40, and they range from living in their car to living in the nicest neighborhoods in town,” she said of her adoption work. “Unplanned pregnancy is an equal-opportunity affliction.”
Kuster published a 2004 memoir based on interviews with her mother called The Last Dance. It dealt with Susan McLane’s struggles with Alzheimer’s disease before she died in 2005. Kuster also began to immerse herself in politics and served as a delegate at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. She got heavily involved in Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, touring with him as he met New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary voters.
In 2010, Kuster faced off against Bass. She was definitely the underdog in a strong year for Republicans. She criticized his role in securing tax rebates for wood-pellet stove buyers before investing in a wood-pellet stove company himself, New England Wood Pellet. Bass denied any wrongdoing, but the issue gave her momentum. Kuster came under fire over an anecdote she repeated on the campaign trail about a New Hampshire firm that lost 4,000 jobs to outsourcing; a local newspaper found that no such company existed. Bass eked out the victory with 48 percent of the vote to Kuster’s 47 percent.
In 2012, Kuster ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. In the fall campaign this time around, Kuster had a more favorable political climate, as the strength of the antigovernment tea party receded. The two candidates debated taxes, with Kuster calling for a return to the Clinton-era tax rate and Bass favoring an extension of the deeper Bush-era tax cuts. Kuster supported Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul, and Bass called the law a “bureaucratic boondoggle.” At a rally in Concord, Kuster grabbed a camera away from a Bass campaign staffer. The dustup was caught on video, and the National Republican Congressional Committee ran an ad criticizing her. Kuster countered that the Bass staffer was harassing her.