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Friday, September 14, 2012

Women Running for Congress in Record Numbers


If the parties are indeed engaging in some sort of “war on women,” record numbers of them are successfully enlisting in the fight. More women have been nominated to the major parties for House and Senate seats than ever, according to researchers.

“Not since the so-called Year of the Woman in 1992 have we seen such a leap in the number of women stepping forward to contend for Congressional seats,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, which tracked the candidacies. Eighteen women are running for the Senate, breaking 2010's record of 14, and 163 are up for House seats, the most since 2004, when 141 women made bids.

In a press release, Ms. Walsh noted similarities between 1992 and 2012: “the crucial first election after reapportionment and redistricting, news events underscoring the need for women's voices in policy-making, and a presidential election year generating political excitement.”

Particularly remarkable is that women appear to be diving right into federal-level elections, said Karen Middleton, president of Emerge America, a group that trains Democratic women to run for office. The uptick in Congressional candidacies does not correspond with an increase in bids for local- and state-level posts by women, Ms. Middleton said.

“Women are pretty frustrated with what they're seeing in terms of the way Congress operates,” she said. “We tend to be problem solvers,” and women are feeling a greater obligation to step up.

Gender gaps between the parties exist, but they vary in direction depending on the office. Democrats are trying to send more than two time s more women to Washington than Republicans â€" in part because more Democratic women won primaries and because there are more Democratic women who are incumbents. There are 12 distaff Democrats running for Senate and 116 House candidates; 6 Republican women are running for the Senate and 47 for the House.

After this year's elections, however, more Republican women will preside over governor's mansions than Democrats. Of the six women currently serving as governors, the terms of the four Republicans are not up this year, and the two Democrats declined to run for re-election. Maggie Hassan, who won the Democratic primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday, is the only woman in the country running for governor. If she loses, the Rutgers researchers noted, there will be no Democratic women serving as governors for the first time since 1996.

Obstacles to women's candidacies remain, said Ms. Middleton, including harsh media portrayal and family obligations that continue to r est mainly with women. The increase in women's candidacies is a “step in the right direction,” she said. “But we don't think our work is done by a long shot.”