With the political press' attention on New Hampshire focused on the Republican primary, there's been little made of today's announcement by Maggie Hassan, a former Democratic state senator, that she will run for governor next year to replace John Lynch, the popular two-term Democrat who has decided not to run for reelection.
But the governor's race will undoubtedly have an impact on whether Obama is able to hold onto New Hampshire next fall. And if Hassan is the Democratic nominee, there could be an interesting interplay between her campaign in the state and Obama's -- because just three years ago, she and Obama were very much at odds. Hassan was one of several prominent Democratic women in the state who not only endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 first in the nation primary but went to extreme lengths to do her campaign's bidding. Most notably, in the final days of the campaign, Hassan and others put their names to an email that went out to thousands of women voters in the state accusing Obama of having been weak-willed in supporting abortion rights as a member of the Illinois state senate. "The difference between Hillary's repeatedly standing up strong on choice and Obama's unwillingness to vote 'yes' or 'no' is a clear contrast, and we believe the voters in New Hampshire deserve to know this difference," the e-mail stated. "We support Hillary Clinton because she never ducked when choice was at stake."
The email followed a Clinton campaign mailer that made the same charge, but having it signed by so many respected New Hampshire women gave it an extra punch. Realizing the damage the email could do, the Obama campaign scrambled to get Planned Parenthood officials in Illinois to vouch for Obama's credentials on abortion rights, but they ran out of time. There are many theories for Clinton's stunning win in the primary after being down in the polls just days beforehand, but the particularly big surge in her support among women in the final days suggests that the coordinated attack on Obama's abortion rights record may have played a major role.
The attack left a major rift among Democratic women in the state, with Obama supporters accusing Clinton supporters of letting themselves be dragged into an unfair attack against a fellow Democrat by a Clinton campaign desperate for a win after her Iowa defeat. "For Clinton to do this to the choice community is so appalling," Mary Rauh, a leading Obama supporter, told me at the time. "I can't tell you how it distresses me ... how devastating this is and how horrified I am that the Clinton campaign would do this. I fear it will happen elsewhere and it's just appalling."
Realizing the damage that had been done, several of the women who signed the Clinton email put their names to a statement of reconciliation with the Obama camp. Among the signers of the reconciliation letter was Maggie Hassan. But she did not go as far as did another of the Clinton supporters, who told me that the pro-choice email had been a "mistake." As I reported at the time:
Sen. Hassan said she, too, was unaware of the Illinois Planned Parenthood defense of Obama at the time she signed the critical letter, that she had only been told by the Clinton campaign that the Illinois chapter of NOW had cited concerns about Obama's present votes. She said it was wrong for anyone to suggest that Obama was not pro-choice, and that she was sorry about the upset that the letter had caused. But Hassan stood by what she said was the main point of the initial e-mail, that Clinton was the most staunchly pro-choice Democrat. "All of the leading Democratic candidates are strongly pro-choice but I think Hillary's record is unparalleled. I stand by what I signed before the election and don't think it's inconsistent with" the new e-mail stating that Obama is strongly pro-choice, Hassan said. "Everybody's going to interpret these letters and e-mails as they want to."
Now that Hassan is running for governor, could there be some lingering ill feeling about this episode between her and the Obama camp? Rauh, for one, says she hopes it's all been put to rest now that Democrats in the state have banded together to fight the 2010 Republican wave in New Hampshire. She noted, for one thing, that Hassan had attended Joe Biden's most recent visit to the state. "She’s been very supportive of Obama ever since that," said Rauh. "I’m sure it meant a lot to her that he made Hillary his secretary of state. That’s all been healed over, if you will."
Carol Moore, another leading Obama supporter, also put the issue behind her, but phrased it in more ambivalent terms. "I myself was outraged about it, and there are people I've never had a relationship with since then because of it," she said. "But I never think about it anymore."