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« A Return to Conservatism? Be Patient | Blog Home Page | VA Gov Poll: Deeds +3 »

NH-02: "Inspired" By Obama, Kuster Enters Race

Ann McLane Kuster, a New Hampshire attorney and early supporter of Barack Obama, announced today that she intends to run for the 2nd district seat being vacated by Rep. Paul Hodes (D).

Born into a political family, Kuster co-chaired New Hampshire Women for Obama and spent countless hours traveling the state on his behalf. In an interview this morning, she said that advocacy for the president spurred her to seek the seat.

"There's no question that I was inspired by Barack Obama to take this step into politics myself," said Kuster, of Hopkinton. "I've always been a community activist and a political activist. Both Barack and Michelle's grace and courage gave me the confidence to step up to run."

Announcing her candidacy today in a video to supporters, she said the formal campaign kick off will come this fall; the Democratic primary is in September 2010. But Kuster said she's already been actively courting constituencies and voters throughout the district in "more or less a Hillary Clinton listening tour." She also has met several times with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and EMILY's List. She's focusing now on raising enough money to run a competitive campaign, with the goal of $1 million for the primary.

Kuster said she hadn't expected to enter politics herself, but cited a confluence of events that spurred her to make the plunge. It started with her signing on to the Obama campaign in January 2007, followed by work on the presidential transition, and then the decision by Hodes to run for the U.S. Senate, creating a rare open seat race.

"I'm not known as a political figure at all, so there's no question that when you see that first poll, I'll have a long way to go in terms of name recognition," she said.

Among those also expected to run is Katrina Swett, whose husband, Dick, held the seat for two terms. Kuster acknowledged that Swett starts with considerable financial resources, having raised money for a Senate bid in 2008 before stepping aside for Jeanne Shaheen. But Swett lost a previous attempt at the seat in 2002 by double digits to Republican Charlie Bass, who may himself run again.

"One of the reasons why I'm getting such strong support is that the pro-choice activists and others feel they want a very strong, moderate, pro-choice Democratic candidate to go up against Charlie and win and hold the seat," said Kuster.

Earlier this year, Kuster indicated she might step aside if state Senate President Sylvia Larsen decided to enter. "My plan is to be in it to win it," Kuster said today.

Kuster's father served as mayor of Concord and on the state Executive Council, and once ran for governor. Her mother was a long-time Republican state senator who switched parties in 1992 after endorsing Bill Clinton. She said she's been "genuinely pleased and surprised" by encouragement she's received from some of her parents' supporters, even joking that her parents are raising money for her from heaven as some of their donors have already contributed.

Despite her prominent role on the Obama campaign in the state, Kuster said some of the state's top Clinton backers have already endorsed her. Her campaign listed dozens of endorsements today, including state House Majority Leader Mary Jane Wallner, Stoneyfield Yogurt CEO Gary Hirshberg, and Christina D'Allesandro, daughter of state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro. She said she's also signed up a strong list of consultants: Paul Ambrosino for direct mail, Mark Mellman as pollster, and Jason Ralston and John Lapp for media.

Looking ahead, Kuster said she's trying to channel the "No Drama Obama" mindset for what will be a long campaign.

"I've lived my life with passion, patience and perseverance, and that's what this will take," she said. "Eighteen months is a long time. I will just keep my head down and go to work every day getting it done."