Each vows to fight the essence of what the other represents in the race for NH’s 2nd district, and the two disagree on almost every issue at play, from health care to abortion rights to gun laws and taxes.
In fact, the two hadn’t even met in person before Friday.
But at the National Education for Women Leadership New England event, the two women did meet — and discovered that as accomplished women running for federal office, they shared more in common than they might have thought.
The two spoke to female college students about the challenges facing women in politics, managing to avoid any awkward discussions of the current race or their strong political differences.
Each woman was exceptionally candid regarding her struggles with work-life balance and the challenges of motherhood, a topic they had in common (between them they have 12 children). Horn and Swett together presented an articulate, passionate vision of what female leadership could look like in the future.
And in a race where three of the five serious contenders for office are women (Democrat Ann McLane Kuster is also running), it was particularly interesting to hear the women discuss the influence of gender in their careers –something that none of the women have discussed much in campaign appearances so far.
“New Hampshire has become a very friendly place for female politicians,” Swett said. “It has become very open to female candidates, and I think gender is increasingly becoming a non-issue in the race, which is what we want.”
But both women criticized what they percieved was unfair coverage of Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin in the 2008 presidential election and spoke of the double standard they have experienced in their own lives.
“When my husband Dick was running, at that time he had five children and they were all quite young. And there was never a moment when it was not an asset to him. People would say, ‘what a nice family you have,'” Swett said. “But when I ran for office, people’s reaction was much more ambivalent.”
The two spoke of the difficulties of raising children while campaigning, from Horn’s teenage sons reading viscous comments about her online, to Swett’s young daughter expressing fear at attending a parade with angry protesters.
And told the young women in the room that they could in fact, “have it all,” but probably “not simultaneously,” urging them never to doubt their own capabilities or opportunities.
Swett seemed to take the lead in the discussion, framing herself as the more seasoned female candidate giving advice to her younger opponent and women in the audience. There is no doubt that she has a gift for storytelling and connecting with people — and her rapport with the group showed that.
But Horn was anxious to push back against this framework, asserting her own experience raising a family and working outside politics and rejecting Swett’s subtle attempts to paint her as the young upstart.
“Jennifer, it’s very important to persuade your children that cereal is always an excellent dinner,” Swett said jokingly to her opponent in a discussion on the futility of aiming for perfection.
“Oh trust me, mine learned that long before I got into politics,” Horn shot back.
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