CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Democrat Carol Shea-Porter thought nothing could top being the first woman elected to Congress from New Hampshire in 2006.
"I thought you couldn't get anything more wonderful than that. I knew it was a tremendous honor," she said.
But that sense of honor and gratitude paled in comparison to her amazement Wednesday when she realized she would be part of the nation's first all-female Congressional delegation. In addition to sending Shea-Porter back to the 1st Congressional District seat she held until 2010, New Hampshire also elected Democrat Ann McLane Kuster in the 2nd District. They'll join Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, in Washington.
"They're all stars, just wonderful women and great public servants who I will be privileged to serve with," Shea-Porter said.
New Hampshire, known for its first-in-the-nation primary, has racked up an impressive list of firsts when it comes to powerful women.
In 1999, it became the first state to have a female governor (Shaheen), Senate president (Beverly Hollingworth) and House speaker (Donna Sytek) at the same time. Ten years later, it became the first state with a female majority in its state Senate.
Given that history, and the state's track record of having one of the highest percentages of women serving in the state Legislature, the director of Center for American Women and Politics wasn't at all surprised by the latest achievement. Add in the fact that the state also elected Democrat Maggie Hassan as governor, and, "You should be crowing about it in an even bigger way," said Debbie Walsh.
After flat-lining in recent years, a record number of women ran for Congress this year, Walsh said. With Tuesday's results, there will be 19 or 20 women in the Senate, she said. Some House races remained unsettled, but she estimated women would ultimately make up 18 to 19 percent of the House.
Those numbers reflect an increase in organized efforts to recruit female candidates, she said.
"One of things we've learned over the years from the research we've done is that women are more likely to run if someone asks them to do it," she said. "They don't necessarily think about politics as the solution to problems, particularly these days when they look at government and they see a lot of gridlock. ... But what I think we saw this year was a lot of energy put into identifying women to run and engaging and inspiring them."
In an email to supporters Wednesday morning, Kuster said she was especially proud to join the other women serving New Hampshire when she thought about her grandmother — a suffragette — and her mother, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1980.
"Many voters would not consider voting for her because she was a woman," she said.
Ayotte, who placed calls Wednesday to Shea-Porter, Kuster and Hassan, said she expects the strong relationship she shares with Shaheen to spill over to her new colleagues.
"Obviously, we have many strong women leaders in New Hampshire and it's very exciting to see the diverse nature of our representation," she said. "Senator Shaheen and I have a great working relationship, and I believe I will have a very good working relationship with all of them."
Ayotte was New Hampshire's first female attorney general. Shaheen was the first woman elected governor in New Hampshire, as well as the only woman to have served as both governor and U.S. senator. Together, they made New Hampshire the first state to have female senators of both parties serving at the same time.
Shea-Porter said the results reflect that New Hampshire voters are sensible people who look past gender.
"I don't think anybody set out to say, 'Let's make sure they're all women,' ... I didn't hear anybody talk about it on the trail," she said. "But now that it's done, I think, that is very, very special. I'm proud of New Hampshire."
And the trend could continue. Ayotte, who made it onto Mitt Romney's list of potential running mates this year, has been informed by her 8-year-old daughter that she doesn't want her mom to become the nation's first female president — she wants to claim that title herself.