Jeanne Shaheen's Senate seat should have been safe.
Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat up for re-election this year, is a former governor who is rated favorably by more than half of her state's residents -- quite a feat for any Democrat in a year when the president and his signature health care law are faring dismally.
And, until a few months ago, it looked as though Shaheen would not attract a serious Republican challenger nor be seriously targeted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Shaheen starts the contest with a double-digit lead. But Brown's celebrity, coupled with the drag of low poll ratings for Democrats generally, will make the race competitive. The outcome could determine which party controls the Senate.
There are likely few Democrats who are better equipped to face the challenge than Shaheen.
“She is a masterful politician,” said Mike Dennehy, a Republican strategist who ran John McCain’s New Hampshire campaign during his 2008 presidential bid. “She knows what she’s doing, she’s very good, and even though her numbers are down, she’s going to make the most of it and she’ll be tough to beat.”
Shaheen knows campaigns from the inside out, because she got her start working on them -- first, for former President Jimmy Carter; then, managing Gary Hart's presidential bid; and, later, as the national chairperson of John Kerry's presidential campaign.
She also knows a thing or two about political waves: She rode one to victory in 2008 over an incumbent Republican, Sen. John E. Sununu.
All told, Shaheen has run five statewide campaigns in New Hampshire as a candidate, and she has lost only once, to Sununu in 2002. Her deep knowledge of the state and its voters will give her a distinct advantage over Brown, who will be navigating New Hampshire for the first time.
“People have muscle memory when they vote for Jeanne Shaheen. They’ve voted for her time and again — as governor, as senator,” said one New Hampshire Republican strategist. “People like her, they’re comfortable with her. She’s like part of the family.”
“I would never say anyone’s unstoppable,” the strategist added, “but she’s pretty darn close.”