(WOMENSENEWS)–The pipeline problem for women has nothing to do with off-shore drilling and everything to do with on-shore political power.

The fact is that a record number of women were elected in 1992, in part because of the Anita Hill backlash, and now many of these same women are at the pinnacle of their careers, looking back and seeing only young men coming up behind them.

The U.S. Senate has a record number of women, 13, out of 100 seats, as does the House of Representatives, 61 out of 435. Two women won governors mansions as well in 2000, making the total on election day five governors out of 50. One, Christine Todd Whitman has now resigned to become head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Moreover, three women were among the top 10 fund-raisers in senate campaigns: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) came in third, self-financed multi-millionaire Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) was sixth, and California’s incumbent Senator, Dianne Feinstein was seventh.

And EMILY’s List reached new levels of power as well. The political action committee for pro-choice Democratic women now has an all-time high of 65,000 members and channeled $9.2 million into women’s congressional and gubernatorial campaigns across the country, says spokeswoman Beth Richardson.

Pro-choice Republican women are also thinking ahead and getting organized.

EMILY’s List And The WISH List Are Both Off And Running For 2002

“We didn’t start recruiting in the last cycle, but this time we are starting early in 2001 for impact in the election of 2002,” said Candace Straight, president of the WISH list which recruits, trains and raises money for pro-choice Republican women.

In 1998, the WISH list raised $300,000; last year it raised over $1 million and it’s starting early this to raise even more money for the next elections. “You have to start early in the cycle to have an ability to train and recruit,” Straight said, adding that both recruitment and training programs have been expanded.

But while women’s groups laud the numbers, women are still no where near the 50 percent mark in any legislative or executive positions and, moreover, in the state and local races, their numbers appeared to have reached a plateau.

The Center for American Women and Politics reported that the number of women in state legislatures dropped slightly: 1,656 women are now in state legislatures in 2001–14 fewer than last year.

“It’s an incumbent issue,” argued Erica Henri, political director for the 25-year old non-partisan Women’s Campaign Fund, based in Washington, D.C. “Nowadays its daunting for anyone to raise $2 million,” she said. “But because women have yet to reach parity in the political world, they often are faced with running against an incumbent.”

The race is now on to elect more women to national offices in 2002 and crack the financial glass ceiling that keeps the numbers of female politicians disproportionately low.

EMILY’S List Is Holding A Half-Price Membership Sale

EMILY’s List hopes to seriously pump up the funding within the next two years, said Richardson. For the first time in its history, the List is offering membership for half its usual price. Now new members can join the List for $100, which is then funneled to two candidates of their choosing.

The WISH list also is expanding its membership base and scouting for open seats-;the races which women tend to win.

The number of women running for congress in 2002 is likely to be influenced as well by an historical first: The heads of the Democrat Senate and House campaign committees are two women–also known for supporting other women for elective office.

Two-term Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) hit the nation’s roads last fall to help campaign for other women candidates and encourage women in general to run for office. Now she chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee with a mandate to raise funds for the all-important 2002 race.

Eight-term Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) is her counterpart in the House. Lowey was all set herself to run for the senate when a well-known figure moved into her district and announced her intentions. Lowey stepped back so that Rodham Clinton could run and now Lowey will have enormous say about whom her party backs for higher office.

All their efforts must overcome the enormous advantage male candidates hold in most states. One veteran campaigner explains how big money and women’s exclusion from the inner circles in her state discourage women running for high public office.

A Strong Woman Backed Out of Nevada Senate Race

After more than two decades in public service, Frankie Sue Del Papa declared her candidacy for the U. S. Senate, only to drop out several months later, saying she “didn’t have the stomach” to raise the necessary funds to effectively compete with her Republican opponent, John Ensign. Del Papa, Nevada’s three-term Democratic attorney general, had raised only $320,000 compared to then Republican candidate, now senator, John Ensign’s $1.2 million.

Too few women are in the higher echelons of business to provide her a base of financial support, Del Papa said. And, while she has been a popular state attorney general, when it came to the U.S. Senate race, she found out it was a whole different ball game: The top executives of the state’s main industry–gaming–contributed almost exclusively to her opponent.

Moreover, in Nevada, an annual gathering for the state’ business elite, at which political careers are made, is a stag party and Del Papa has never been invited.

“I’m sure I would have been invited if I were a male attorney general,” she said.

Mary Hawkesworth, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University, is one of those that feels that gender has little to do with political fundraising. Some women are as good as men at raising funds, she says, and those who aren’t excel at getting more bang for their buck when it comes to running campaigns.

“Women are better at running grass roots campaigns, spending their money more wisely,” she added.

Buttressing Hawkesworth’s arguments are two women now taking their seats in the U.S. Senate-both top fundraisers who nevertheless under-spent their opponents, according to the Washington, D.C., and -based Center for Responsive Politics. Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow raised $8 million compared with opposing Republican incumbent Spencer Abraham’s $12 million. Rodham Clinton spent $30 million compared with Rick Lazio’s $39 million.

Grass Roots Party Activists Should Be Recruited

Hawksworth said there are lots of women in the pipeline, starting at the grass roots level, but they may not yet see themselves as potential candidates. Seventy-five percent of rank and file party activists are women, she said, adding that 65 percent of Republican party activists are women.

“We have to convince the parties to persuade these dedicated party workers to run for office,” she said. “We need to think creatively about women involved in grass roots volunteer activities in their communities-that has been a great recruiting ground in the past”.

Women like to be asked to throw their hats into the ring, Hawkesworth added, and they want to be convinced that it’s the right thing for them to do.

“We need to organize groups to go to someone and say, ‘You should run, you’d be great at this,'” she said.

In New Jersey, there’s a new bipartisan coalition that presses candidates for governor to name women in their administrations. Iowa has passed legislation requiring gender balance in state boards and laws. “These activities and laws help women build their base of support and get name recognition,” Hawkesworth said.

Kim Palchikoff is a free-lance writer based in Seattle.