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N.H. Senate: Shaheen's In

Former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) made clear today that she plans to run against Sen. John Sununu (R) in 2008.

Jeanne Shaheen
Shaheen lost to Sen. Sununu in 2002. She's seeking a rematch. (AP)

"I've stepped down from my position at the Kennedy School of Government because we have major problems facing this country, and there is an urgent need for real change in Washington," Shaheen said in a just-released statement. "We've proven in New Hampshire that we can work together to get things done. I want to take that common-sense approach to Washington and help get this country moving in the right direction."

She is expected to formally enter the race on Sunday at an event at her home in Madbury, New Hampshire.

Shaheen had been mulling the race for months, weighing her desire to serve in the Senate with her comfortable perch as the head of the Harvard Institute of Politics. Poll after poll showed Shaheen leading Sununu by double digits, making the prospect of passing on the race nearly impossible.

Landing Shaheen finishes a tremendous week of recruiting for Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that includes former Gov. Mark Warner's (Va.) decision to run for the open seat in Virginia and a visit to Washington by former Sen. Bob Kerrey who is considering a return bid for the open seat in Nebraska.

Shaheen's candidacy ensures that Sununu is now the single most endangered Republican incumbent in the country. A CNN/WMUR poll conducted in in mid July showed Shaheen leading Sununu 54 percent to 38 percent.; Sununu held small leads over the two other Democratic candidates -- Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand and 2002 congressional candidate Katrina Swett -- in the field.

Marchand was expected to release a statement shortly after Shaheen makes the news official. He had previously said he would end his candidacy and support the former governor if she ran but recently had backed off that pledge. Swett's office did not return a call seeking comment but she will come under serious pressure from state and national party leaders to drop from the race and clear the way for Shaheen.

For Shaheen, her decision to run provides a chances to redeem herself after a narrow loss to Sununu in a 2002 open seat battle. Shaheen, who had served as governor since 1996, was considered the favorite in the race and led for much of the contest. But, the prevailing political winds were blowing at Republicans' back -- President Bush's approval ratings were sky high -- and Shaheen struggled to beat back GOP attacks on her tax record. Sununu triumphed by a 51 percent to 47 percent margin despite being outspent by more than $2 million.

Five years later, the political situation has turned on its end. Strong anti-war sentiment in New Hampshire led to the defeat of both of New Hampshire's Congressman in 2006 and a deep dip in Sununu's numbers. Democrats argue that voters have gone through a bit of buyer's remorse when it comes to the first Shaheen-Sununu race, a phenomenon that plays a large part in her wide lead over the incumbent at the moment.

That's not to say this race is over. Sununu is a savvy politician who knows the sort of fight he is in for. And, for all of her polling strength, Shaheen is not the most charismatic of politicians and may well watch her numbers decline once she becomes a full fledged candidate.

But, it's a rare occasion when a challenger's entry into a race turns an incumbent into an underdog. And that's exactly what's happened here.

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 14, 2007; 11:10 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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