Shaheen survives heated Humphrey challenge

By Lois R. Shea, Globe Staff, 11/8/2000

ANCHESTER, N.H. - New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen won re-election last night, surviving what had become a neck-and-neck challenge from former US senator Gordon Humphrey.

In a state whose four electoral votes narrowly went to George Bush, the Democratic incumbent declared victory just after 10 p.m.

''Together, we're going to keep moving forward,'' Shaheen said to exuberant supporters. ''We will never go back to an unfair system of unequal schools ... We will keep our economy strong and we will keep our commitment to our kids.''

Shaheen is the first New Hampshire governor to win a third term since John Sununu did in the 1980s.

Humphrey conceded the race at about 10:30 last night. ''I'm disappointed, yes, but I'm proud of what we've done,'' he said. When his supporters began to boo Shaheen, Humphrey held up his hands.

''No no no,'' he said. ''Let's do this the right way.'' And he led the group in applauding his opponent.

Incumbency and a strong economy worked in Shaheen's favor, said Andrew Smith of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

''She appealed to the moderates in the Republican Party, the undeclared voters, and got the Democratic vote,'' Smith said. ''Humphrey, I think, reflected an older style of politics in New Hampshire - he's more conservative, more combative, than the electorate.''

In 1996, Shaheen was the first woman elected governor of New Hampshire. She was reelected in a landslide in 1998.

While Shaheen has done much of what she promised - children in New Hampshire have greater access to kindergarten and health insurance, electricity has been deregulated, and HMO reform has been passed - she has been dogged for the past 21/2 years by the thorny issue of how to pay for public schools.

In 1997, the state Supreme Court ruled that New Hampshire's near-total reliance on local property taxes to fund schools was unconstitutional, and directed the state to find a new way to fund education. A permanent solution has yet to be found, but a stopgap measure was passed last legislative session that included a controversial statewide property tax.

In a state that takes pride in its lack of sales or income taxes, the education funding issue eclipsed all others in this campaign.

Humphrey pledged to veto any sales, income, or capital-gains tax. Shaheen, by contrast, refused this year to take the state's traditional ''pledge'' against broad-based taxes. She had taken the pledge in her two previous runs. No governor had won in nearly 30 years without taking the pledge.

Humphrey is a fiscal and social conservative who spent 12 years in the US Senate before returning to New Hampshire to serve a single term as a state senator.

He campaigned with a plan to fund education with $825 million drawn from state revenues.

In recent days, Humphrey's campaign and the Republican State Committee launched a barrage of publicity contending that Shaheen favors an income tax to fund education.

Shaheen has never said she favors an income tax; in fact, the only thing she said during the campaign that she favors is video gambling. The only thing she ruled out is a higher statewide property tax.

''That was a very tough decision,'' said Terry Clouthier of Manchester, after casting her vote. ''I've been tossing and turning over this for a long time.'' Clouthier said she made her decision in the voting booth - and ultimately chose Shaheen.

The candidates have also differed on social issues, most prominently abortion. Humphrey has long crusaded against what he calls the ''vile holocaust'' of abortion. Shaheen is in favor of abortion rights.

Humphrey has spent $2.3 million on the race, $1.6 million of it his own, primarily from his wife's inheritance. Shaheen has spent more than $1 million.

The race was often vitriolic, with Shaheen's camp painting Humphrey as a right-wing extremist. Shaheen was targeted by out-of-state groups who are against gay and abortion rights.