Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen filed papers Wednesday to create an exploratory committee for an anticipated run for the U.S. Senate.

"I'm taking a close look at this race because I share the concerns I've heard from so many people in New Hampshire," Shaheen said in a statement.

The seat is now held by Republican Bob Smith, who is seeking re-election in 2002.

"Democrats, independents and Republicans all have told me that they want a U.S. senator who will be a champion for them in Washington and take action on the real problems they face," Shaheen said.

For months, Shaheen has been widely expected to make the step. The deadline for her to become an official candidate is not until June.

Shaheen, who is serving her third two-year term as governor, was first elected in 1996. She is the first Democratic governor since Hugh Gallen in 1982.

She is seeking to become the state's first Democratic U.S. senator since John Durkin, who lost in 1980.

The Democrats have a precarious 50-49-1 advantage in the Senate after Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords switched from the GOP to independent in June. The Republican party is defending 20 seats and the Democrats are defending 14.