New Hampshire likes women. And Hillary Clinton likes New Hampshire.
The former secretary of State won New Hampshire in 2008, and when she arrived here on Sunday to campaign for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan, she reminded voters she would need them again if she runs in 2016.
New Hampshire is the only state with an all-female delegation. There's Hassan, the Democratic governor; two U.S. senators, Shaheen and Republican Kelly Ayotte; and two U.S. House members, Democrats Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster. (The state's current House speaker and Supreme Court chief justice are women as well.)
Four of those women are on the ballot this fall, some of them locked in tight races, a fact that's brought Clinton out. But the sheer number of female incumbents on the ballot here, and the number who have won in years past, are also a reminder of the state's track record of electing women from both parties—something the state's female pols say is a result of both the grassroots nature of New Hampshire politics and an uncommonly high number of opportunities to run for office.
"When that moment happened where there was the first all-female delegation, it wasn't surprising to us that it was New Hampshire," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics. "There's such a tradition of women's leadership "¦ there's a kind of comfort level with electing women and seeing them on the ballot."
It was also the first state to give a victory to Clinton in 2008, a fact she noted during a speech in Nashua. "During the darkest days of my campaign, you lifted me up, you gave me my voice back, you taught me so much about grit and determination, and I will never forget that," she said.
The state's record of electing women to state legislative positions goes back decades—though it's worth noting that even New Hampshire didn't send a woman to Congress until Shea-Porter was sworn in in 2007. The state made history when it became the first one with a majority-female chamber of its state Legislature: Back in 2009 and 2010, 13 of the 24-member state Senate were women.
According to data from Rutgers, the state Legislature has been at least a quarter female since the university began collecting data in 1975, a figure far higher than most other states at the time. And Shaheen, who's now facing reelection for a second term in the Senate, is the first woman in U.S. history to serve as both governor and senator for a state.
These data points are all the more striking when they're put up against the rest of the country. Just 23 of 50 states have elected women as governors, and there are still four states—Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi, and Vermont—that have never sent a woman to Congress. Even in the more politically progressive Northeast, neighboring states have had a tough time getting women into top jobs: Rhode Island and Massachusetts could elect their first female governors on Tuesday, with state Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Attorney General Martha Coakley, respectively.
Clinton made her pitch directly to female voters in New Hampshire Sunday, saying that women's issues are about more than just campaign talking points.
"Women's rights, here at home and around the world, are like the canary in the mine," she said. "You start taking away, you start limiting women's rights, who's next?"
New Hampshire's record is due in large part to an unusually large Legislature: The House of Representatives alone has 400 members, which means about one state representative per 3,300 people.
"We're what I call an all-hands-on-deck state: We include people and welcome them if they want to participate and contribute," Hassan told National Journal after a campaign press conference in Concord. "That spirit really means that women who get involved in their communities have an opportunity to participate and are respected in their own right."
The state House is what people in New Hampshire call a true citizen Legislature: Elected members make just $200 per term (or $100 per year), and their work there isn't considered a full-time job. That part-time nature of the role is something that helps make the process more inclusive for women.
That doesn't mean there aren't still significant barriers and challenges. Speaking at a training session at the state Republican convention in Hooksett, Ayotte told the crowd about the two questions she got on the 2010 campaign trail that men never did: what would happen to her children and whether she'd be "tough enough" for Washington.
"I thought to myself "¦ 'What do you mean, am I going to be tough enough? Listen, I was a murder prosecutor!' " she said. "I put some of the toughest criminals in the history of our state behind bars personally. How much tougher do you want me to be?"
And Shaheen, who ran unsuccessfully for her current job in 2002 (she won six years later), said the focus on national security issues that year hindered female candidates across the country.
"In 2002, when national security was a big issue, I think that affected women running ... I ran for the Senate in 2002 and lost that race," she said. While 2014 is certainly different than 2002, the late-stage focus on national security in this year's midterm elections is playing a big role in Shaheen's reelection bid.
Hassan, however, said the growing pains women face when running for office are improved every time another woman gets elected and serves.
"Every time women have worked to broaden their role in society they come up with some challenges," she told National Journal. "The more women who run and the more women who hold office, the more those barriers will fade."
If that's true, and New Hampshire's record of supporting female candidates holds, no one stands to benefit more than Clinton in 2016.
"New Hampshire has always been seen as a bellwether state for the country so hopefully this just means a mandate for women's leadership is sweeping the nation," said Jess McIntosh of the pro-Democratic women's group EMILY's List. "New Hampshire is very much ready to vote for a woman president, whether that's Hillary Clinton or somebody else who takes the plunge."