WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--On Saturday, August 26, as the 19th Amendment giving U.S. women the right to vote turns 86, several dozen women will mark the day in suitable style. They will be out campaigning for their party's congressional nominations in primary elections next month.
This year, more than 230 women--including 65 incumbents--have filed for party nomination to the House or Senate, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
So far, 112 have won their primaries: 102 for the House and 10 for the Senate. Three women have withdrawn from primaries and 51 others have lost their races. The 66 women who haven't been defeated yet will run in September primaries, 55 for House seats and 11 for the Senate.
If 40 of the women win next month--in races taking place primarily on the East Coast but also in the South, the Midwest and the West--they will break the record for the number of female nominees in the major parties in an election year.
The current record was set in 2004, when 151 women were nominated by major parties for the House and Senate, according to the center.
These figures exclude three non-voting delegates to the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands, all of whom are women.
Making a "very, very cautious" prediction, Gilda Morales, program coordinator of information services at the Center for American Women and Politics, said women could net seven additional House seats and one or two more Senate seats in November. That would bring the total number of House women to 74 and Senate women to 16, or approximately 16 to 17 percent of the combined chambers.
"I don't think we'll ever have that year that everybody talks about," Morales said, referring to 1992, when women nearly doubled their ranks in both chambers. "But it's a very doable number to get to with the women that are in play right now."
Currently, there are 14 female senators and 67 female members of the House; the combined figure represents about 15 percent of Congress.
Big Primary Date on Sept. 12
On Sept. 5, 13 female congressional hopefuls will run in Florida's primary.
The bulk of the remaining primaries will be on Sept. 12, when 45 women face party voters in nine states: Arizona, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. Only one other date this year--June 6, when California and seven other states held primaries--saw higher numbers of women on the ballot.
Massachusetts and Washington, with five female congressional candidates combined, will hold their primary elections on Sept. 19.
On Sept. 23, three women will run for Congress in Hawaii.
Only two female incumbents will not stand for reelection this fall: Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, who lost her state's July 18 primary, and Florida's Katherine Harris, a Republican House member who gained notoriety as Florida's secretary of state during the presidential vote-counting controversy of 2000. She is now running for Senate.
The high number of female party nominees improves the odds of women winning in November, but it's no guarantee.
In 2004, during a bumper year for female nominees, women made no gains in the Senate and picked up seven House seats. That fell far short of 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman, when 106 women won primary races and 22 went on to win in the fall.
Running Strong Races
But this year combines quantity and quality, said Ramona Oliver, spokesperson for EMILY'S List, the pro-choice political action committee based in Washington, because many of the female candidates are running strong races.
"I can definitively say we have one of the best groups of women candidates we have ever fielded, both in terms of its size--we have twice the number of candidates running for the House as we did last year--but also qualitatively," Oliver said. "They're running bigger, stronger races and raising more money."
Five Democrats are running strong campaigns for solidly Democratic House seats that have opened up due to male retirements, giving them strong shots at November victories. These women are Democrats Kathy Castor of Florida, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Paula Hollinger of Maryland, Ember Reichgott Junge of Minnesota, and Yvette Clark of New York.
Florida Republican Nancy Detert is running a vigorous campaign in the Republican stronghold of Sarasota. If she wins the primary, she will be favored to win the House seat in November. In gender arithmetic, her win would cancel out the loss of Harris.
Two women in Minnesota--Republican Michele Bachmann and Democrats Patty Wetterling--will stand in their state's Sept. 12 primary to succeed retiring Rep. Mark Kennedy, who is running for Senate. Both are favored to win their parties' nominations and face each other in the fall--guaranteeing a pick-up for women in that district.
Together, these women could win seven seats, the same number women picked up in the entire 2004 election cycle.
Two women--one Republican and one Democrat--have already won primaries and are favored to win on Nov. 7.
Those are Ohio Democrat Betty Sutton, a state lawmaker who won her state's May 2 primary for the House seat held by retiring Democrat Sherrod Brown, and Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican who won an Aug. 22 runoff for her party's primary nod in the race to succeed Ernest Istook, who vacated his House seat to run for governor.
September also features women who, even if they win their primaries, won't necessarily cruise to election in November.
At the top of that list is Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, who leads the Democratic field in her state's Sept. 12 Senate primary. If she wins, Klobuchar will face GOP Rep. Mark Kennedy in one of the most competitive Senate races in the country.
On the House side, Arizona Democrats Gabrielle Giffords and Patty Weiss, New York Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand and Judy Aydelott, Wisconsin Democrat Nancy Nusbaum and Vermont Republican Martha Rainville are running strong in primary races and, if they win, would put up a good fight in November.
Dozens of other women are running underdog challenges in September primaries around the country.
But this year could be a good one even for these uphill challengers, said Georgia Duerst-Lahti, a professor of government at Beloit College in Beloit, Wis.
She noted similarities to 1992, when women surged in part because of a scandal that tainted lawmakers and because voters soured en masse on the Democrats, then the incumbent party. This time scandal and foul moods are affecting the GOP, which bodes well for women because most are running as Democrats.
"People are just mad at what Congress hasn't done," Duerst-Lahti said. "There's lots of unhappiness. That speaks to change, and that helps women."
Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women's eNews.
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