Governor Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, a Democrat, announced Monday morning that she will challenge first-term US Senator Kelly Ayotte in 2016, setting up what will probably be next year’s most competitive Senate race in New England and the most high-profile Senate race among two women in US history.
For months, polls have shown a hypothetical matchup between Ayotte and Hassan to result in a statistical tie. Democrats must win a net of five US Senate races in 2016 to ensure control of the Senate.
“This is a huge win for Democrats. It was hard to see how they could realistically hope to win back the majority without New Hampshire on the board,” said Jennifer Duffy, a US Senate race analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. “That said, Ayotte isn’t going to be a pushover. This is the toughest race Hassan will ever have run.”
Hassan announced her campaign Monday in a YouTube video, where she presented herself as a bipartisan and common-sense leader during her two terms as governor.
“To continue to realize our state’s full potential, we need a response from Washington that meets the progress we are making here at home,” Hassan said in the video. “And that’s exactly why I am running for the United States Senate.”
Within minutes of the video’s release, Ayotte issued a statement welcoming her opponent into the race. Neither Hassan nor Ayotte is expected to face a significant primary challenge.
“I welcome Governor Hassan to this race and look forward to a very spirited campaign,” Ayotte said. “We have lots to talk about, including confronting the challenges facing our state and how we can best deliver results for New Hampshire families.”
Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political science professor, said Ayotte holds a slight advantage in the contest so far. The Republican announced that she has $5 million in her campaign account after raising $1.6 million in the third quarter of this year.
“Kelly Ayotte, a fairly popular incumbent, has the early edge in what will be a national marquee matchup,” Scala said. “Maggie Hassan will argue that it’s time for a change, but it’s her party that has held the White House for the last seven years.”
Hassan’s decision to run for the Senate means that there will be an open-seat race for New Hampshire governor next year.
James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell, or click here to subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign.