Joanne Dowdell Wants to Make History

The former business executive hopes to be New Hampshire’s first African-American congressional representative.

Posted: 04/16/2012 08:35 AM EDT
Barack Obama, President Barack Obama, Tuskegee Airmen, Congress, President Obama, Politics News, U.S. House of Representatives, Congressional Black Caucus

What are the odds of an African-American woman being elected to represent the overwhelmingly white state of New Hampshire in the U.S. House of Representatives? Joanne Dowdell is taking a gamble to find out whether she’s got what it takes to oust incumbent Republican Rep. Frank Guinta.


What makes Dowdell run?


The former business executive and daughter of Tuskegee Airman Crawford Dowdell moved to the Granite State several years ago to work for a socially responsible mutual investment firm, a position she has since left to run full-time for office. She served on Barack Obama’s New Hampshire primary steering committee and as secretary of the state’s Democratic Party, but it was the nation’s economic collapse in 2008 that whetted her appetite for elective office.


“I witnessed, first-hand, clients losing their jobs, their savings and kids’ college funds. They lost their dreams for the future and it really became apparent that Washington politicians didn’t have the wherewithal to have either identified the risks that were inherent in the market or they just were in the pockets of big [business],” Dowdell said.


The district she hopes to represent is just about 1.1 percent Black and 2.4 percent Latino. In addition, there’s a large and growing population of refugees from countries like Rwanda and the Sudan, who are struggling to survive in a new world order. Like minorities in states around the nation, they also face obstacles in gaining access to economic and educational opportunities.


“Those communities are underserved. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with civic and business leaders throughout the district and one thing that’s really resonated is that [Guinta] isn’t looking out for their best interests,” Dowdell said.


Politically, the district is composed of about 30 percent Republicans, 30 percent Democrats and 40 percent independent voters. It’s the latter two groups that Dowdell hopes will take her over the edge. But she faces an uphill battle.


Dowdell will face off in September with Carol Shea-Porter, a former two-term congresswoman who has higher name recognition. In addition, Seacoastonline.com reports that a recent Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shows that Shea-Porter leads Dowdell by 80 percent.


“It won’t be an easy race for her,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri) told BET.com.


It’s not just the state’s racial makeup, said Cleaver, whose own district is 17 percent Black, but raising enough money to get through her primary in September could be very difficult.


Dowdell, however, isn’t worried.


“I’m the daughter of a Tuskegee Airman,” she said. “I don’t back down.”


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(Photo: Courtesy dowdellforcongress.com)

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