Net Gain Probable for Women in Congress
| October 24, 2008
Some of the new women candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives are Democrats challenging in red districts. Their victory could swell the Democratic majority.
Politicos expect many women to be elected as new members of Congress on November 4. However, a few familiar faces on the national scene may be losers.
Seven women are Senate nominees this year. As of now, it appears that two moderates, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, will pull through. Former GOP presidential contender Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina may not.
Dole, seeking a second term in the seat long held by conservative giant Jesse Helms, began to slip as the financial meltdown spread. Dole has faced a barrage of criticism from her opponent, Democratic state legislator and former banker Kay Hagan, who accused her of not doing enough to stem the crisis. Dole is a member of the Senate Banking Committee.
Hagan, the niece of a popular Florida governor, Lawton Chiles, also hammered away at Dole as an absentee senator who was in North Carolina for only two months from 2004 through 2006. Dole spent much time then campaigning for GOP Senate candidates, as chair of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee. The 2006 elections proved catastrophic for Republicans, with Democrats taking back control of Congress.
“It’s a tough state for us,” conceded Dole’s successor as GOP Senate campaign chair, Senator John Ensign of Nevada.
The New Hampshire Senate race remains tight but former three-term Democratic governor Jeanne Shaheen is given a slight advantage in her bid to defeat GOP Senator John Sununu, in a rematch from a 2002 race where GOP operatives went to jail for obstructing Democratic campaign phone lines. This year Sununu is both campaigning hard to save his seat and playing host to GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who is making repeated visits there to plead for help from New Hampshire voters in rescuing his own campaign.
Several other rematches are underway in House races:
Christine Jennings is opposing GOP Representative Vern Buchanan, who beat her by 369 votes in a controversial 2006 recount in Florida. Buchanan has been in the news due to lawsuits filed against him by former employees—which provided grist for a series of mocking videos financed by EMILY’s List.
In Pennsylvania, Republican Melissa Hart is trying to retake her seat from the man who beat her in 2006, Democrat Jason Altmire.
In Ohio’s 2nd congressional district, Vic Wulsin is opposing GOP Representative Jean Schmidt, former president of the Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. Wulsin has a doctorate in public health and works closely with unions on workplace safety. She lost to Schmidt by 1 percent of the vote in 2006. This year, Democratic registration in the district is up by 129 percent.
Another 2006 Ohio squeaker was in the 15th district, where Republican Deborah Pryce defeated Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by 1,062 votes. Kilroy decided to take another stab at it, especially since Pryce had far outspent her but won narrowly. Pryce retired rather than run again, and Kilroy, who broke into the all-Republican ranks of the Franklin County Commission in 2000, now faces a state senator and former bank lobbyist, Steve Slivers.
Other open-seat contests include:
Missouri’s 9th district, where health care administrator Judy Baker, the Democrat, is challenging ex-legislator and tourism director Blaine Luetkemeyer in a strongly Republican district. Baker, daughter of a career Navy officer, recently won an endorsement from the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
In Maine, Democrat Chellie Pingree, formerly head of Common Cause, is seeking a House seat in a district that tilts Democratic.
In Arizona, prosecutor and Democratic state representative Ann Kirkpatrick has won endorsements from key newspapers, the law enforcement community and officials from the Navajo Nation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano did fundraisers for her. Her opponent Sydney Hay is wealthy, close to the state’s mining industry and an anti-abortion activist.
In Western New York, environmental lawyer Alice Kryzan is holding her own against a millionaire GOP businessman after her upset primary victory over two established Democrats. While they filled the airwaves with attacks on each other, she built a ground operation.
The primary turned her way after her TV spot showing two men scuffling, with her sardonic voice-over saying: “Boys—take it somewhere else.”
Some challengers looked to be successful, including:
Suzanne Kosmas, a former Florida state representative opposing GOP Representative Tom Feeney. One attempt to ward her off: a TV spot trying to link her with the 9/11 ringleader by claiming she failed to oppose drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants. She was ahead by 23 points in a mid-October poll, 58-35.
A closer contest in Nevada pits Dina Titus, the Senate Democratic minority leader for 15 years, against GOP Representative Jon Porter, with polls showing Titus slightly behind but with 13 percent undecided—and with Barack Obama and McCain both vying for Nevada.
This should be a good year for Democratic women. In all, 133 women are nominees for House seats, with 96 of them Democrats. Registration is way up for women and Democrats alike. An AP survey of seven states that sort registrants by gender found an increase of 89 percent new women voters, compared to a 74 percent increase for men.
Women traditionally turn out to vote in higher numbers. In 2004, according to the Center for the American Women and Politics, 8.8 million more women than men voted, and this year, according to the CAWP web site, “women voters could easily outnumber male voters by more than nine million.”
Democrats also are far more enthusiastic about Obama than Republicans are about McCain, polls show. That partly accounts for the massive increase in registration of new Democrats for 2008.
Many other political calculations still have to play out, including the impact of the financial crisis on politics, which most analysts expect to eclipse social issues and Iraq.
What isn’t known is whether McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin can rev up and turn out social conservatives to rescue such GOP conservative stalwarts as Representatives Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota and Jean Schmidt of Ohio Musgrave is the leading anti-gay and anti-abortion activist in Congress, seeking a fourth term. She faces a strong challenge from Democrat Betsy Markey, a small business entrepreneur who has been Senator Ken Salazar’s chief staffer in Colorado. Markey, who earlier worked in Congress and at the State Department, has stayed competitive with Musgrave in raising money.
Bachmann had honed her access to conservative cable TV shows as a supremely confident critic of Democrats during her first term in Congress, but she overreached last week in telling MSNBC’s Chris Matthews of “Hardball” that Obama “may have anti-American views.” She also suggested investigations to find out if other members of Congress are anti-American. Overnight, contributions poured in for her previously unknown Democratic foe. The Republican whom she defeated in the primary vowed a write-in campaign against her.
The Republicans cut off more advertising money for both Musgrave and Bachmann in mid-October, but both women remain flush with cash, with more than $1 million each in their campaign coffers.
Even while the Palin Factor continues to be dissected, the results are in on the Hillary factor: she has been a huge plus for Democratic candidates, says Senator Charles Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
And by late October, Senator Clinton had revived her political action committee. Reports filed last Monday with the Federal Election Commission showed she had raised more than $1.1 million for Hill PAC since July and had written $75,000 in checks to candidates in 14 House and Senate races, including Kay Hagan and Jeanne Shaheen.