(WOMENSENEWS)–Candidates that prioritized women’s issues competed Tuesday for Senate and House seats and governorships across the country, with some hot races stretching all the way to Wednesday.
The various losses and gains of pro-choicecongressional seats shifted some significant ground, but ultimately the number of pro-choice House representatives and Senators remained the same from 2002.
The controversial redistricting that took place in Texas led to the defeat of one anti-choice and three pro-choice Democrats, but gerrymandering that led to that result still faces a challenge in the courts.
However, two pro-choice Republicans won open seats in the House. In Michigan’s 7th district, John “Joe” Schwarz beat out four other candidates with 59 percent of the vote. The physician and former state senator is pro-choice, but has voted for laws that claim to ban “partial birth abortion.”
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania’s 15th district, Charles W. Dent also won with 59 percent of the vote against three other candidates. The former state legislator advocates for a woman’s right to legal abortion, but has also supported statutes requiring parental notification for minors seeking an abortion.
Women’s eNews tracked several dozen races where women’s issues featured prominently. Within those races, female Senate incumbents and a few exciting pro-choice first-time candidates fared quite well, but heartbreakingly close races dealt several popular female candidates a blow.
All six female Senate incumbents up for re-election won their races. One of them, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, was not declared the winner until late Wednesday afternoon, after a close race with former Alaska governor Tony Knowles. Murkowski–appointed to her seat in 2002 by her father, who became governor–has a mixed record on reproductive choice. She won with 49 percent of the vote.
In perhaps the most closely watched Senate race in the country, Democratic leader Tom Daschle lost to Republican John Thune, a Christian conservative. Thune is openly anti-choice, while Daschle has a mixed record when it comes to abortion but has never actively promoted an anti-choice agenda in the Senate. Thune won with 51 percent of the vote, making Daschle the first Senate leader in 52 years to lose a re-election bid.
The Florida Senate race was another cliffhanger, pitting pro-choice Democrat Betty Castor against anti-choice Republican Mel Martinez for an open seat. Martinez, a Cuban emigre with strong support from the Bush administration, ultimately defeated Castor early Wednesday morning. Castor, who would have been Florida’s first female Democratic senator, received a higher percentage of votes in the state than Senator Kerry did in his bid for the presidency.
In the heavily Republican state of South Carolina, anti-choice Republican incumbent Jim DeMint defeated pro-choice Democrat Inez Tenenbaum, a former state education official, in the state’s open Senate seat. DeMint, who got about 54 percent of the vote, stirred controversy with remarks throughout the campaign, including one in which he said that single mothers should not teach in public schools.
Missouri’s Senate race was called in favor of anti-choice, three-term incumbent Christopher “Kit” Bond, who beat pro-choice Democrat Nancy Farmer with about 56 percent of the vote.
In the Georgia Senate race, pro-choice Democrat Denise Majette was defeated by anti-choice Republican Johnny Isakson. Majette received about 39 percent of the vote.
Some Notable Newcomers in the House
Results were also mixed for pro-choice House candidates. Four female newcomers made a splash, while others ultimately lost to better-known incumbents.
In the heavily Republican 8th district of traditionally blue Illinois, pro-choice Democrat Melissa Bean won against Philip Crane, the anti-choice incumbent. Bean, a small business owner from the suburbs, emphasized such bread-and-butter issues as social security, prescription drugs and what she said was the unfair tax burden shouldered by small businesses. She received 52 percent of the vote, marking a bright spot in the night for the pro-choice cause.
In Pennsylvania, several hot House races turned their districts into battlegrounds within a battleground state. Allyson Schwartz, a pro-choice Democrat, defeated Melissa Brown, a pro-choice Republican, in the battle for the state’s 13th district, a seat left open when Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, a Democrat, left to run an unsuccessful race this year against longtime Republican senator Arlen Specter. Schwartz has been a state senator for 14 years, while Brown is an ophthalmologist who has run for but never held public office.
In Pennsylvania’s 16th District, however, the pro-choice candidate was defeated. Democrat Lois Herr lost to four-term incumbent Joe Pitts, an anti-choice Republican.
In the struggle for Florida’s House seats, pro-choice Democrat Jan Schneider lost to anti-choice Republican incumbent Katherine Harris, the controversial former Secretary of State during the presidential election turmoil of 2000, in the 13th district.
However, one of Florida’s other hot House races was a lock for popular pro-choice Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who defeated anti-choice Republican Margaret Hostetter in the 20th district, with about 72 percent of the vote.
In Wisconsin, Gwendolynne Moore became the state’s first black representative to Congress after she defeated anti-choice Republican Gerald Boyle in Wisconsin’s 4th district. Moore is a former state senator.
A heavily watched South Dakota House race ended in a victory for the pro-choice incumbent, Stephanie Herseth. She defeated anti-choice Republican Larry Deidrich with about 53 percent of the vote.
In what could have been a significant upset, Diane Farrell, a Democrat running for one of Connecticut’s congressional seats, was ultimately unsuccessful in her challenge to Republican multi-term incumbent Christopher Shays. Conflicting news reports of the outcome of that race delayed the final poll numbers, but early Wednesday morning Shays was declared the winner with 55 percent of the vote. Both Shays and Farrell are pro-choice.
Ohio’s 3rd district was claimed by anti-choice Republican incumbent Mike Turner. His pro-choice opponent, Jane Mitakides, a businesswoman, was a founding member of the Women’s Council of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Small Business Council of the Democratic National Committee. Turner, who won the seat in 2002, first entered politics as the mayor of Dayton.
In North Carolina’s 11th district, anti-choice incumbent House representative Charles Taylor was declared the victor in his race against pro-choice Democrat Patsy Keever.
Key Ballot Measures
About 65 percent of Florida voters voted for an amendment to the state constitution that would require the notification of the parent or guardian of a minor seeking an abortion. Florida was the only state to include a parental notification measure on its ballot this year.
All 11 states with ballots that included a measure to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage approved the measure. One election expert Women’s eNews spoke to believes that the number of anti-gay marriage initiatives was a deliberate strategy by the Bush campaign to get out the anti-gay vote.
The Bigger Picture
This year, a record 137 women ran for the House of Representatives, and 10 women ran for the Senate–just short of the high of 11 women candidates set in 1992 and tied with the number in 2002. About 75 percent of those women were pro-choice, according to a Women’s eNews guide to female candidates and their positions on reproductive choice.
Three women ran for governor, one incumbent and two competing for open seats. The record is 10 female candidates, which occurred in both 1994 and 2002. As of Wednesday afternoon, one of the three races had not been called, but Ruth Ann Minner in Delaware was reelected and Claire McCaskill of Missouri was defeated by anti-choice Republican Matt Blunt.
The National Women’s Political Caucus reports that, leading into the election, only 31 women have served in the U.S. Senate since 1789. This compares to 1,833 men who have served.
Coming into this year’s election, there were 59 women serving in the House, plus another delegate from the District of Columbia, one from the Virgin Islands and one from Guam, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Women represented 13.6 percent of the House.
Robin Hindery is a writer for Women’s eNews in New York City. Juhie Bhatia is a writer based in New York City.
For more information:
Interactive 2004 Pro-choice Electoral Map: