Darcy Burner

(WOMENSENEWS)–Women stand a chance of expanding their ranks in the House of Representatives up to 20 percent, a figure some think could make the legislative body more receptive to funding health care, child care, domestic violence and other programs considered women-friendly.

Two factors in particular–a high number of female political veterans in the running and a national trend favoring Democrats–are expected to help boost women’s share of Congress. Of the 133 female major party nominees, 96, or 72 percent, are Democrats.

“Women in Congress are disproportionately Democrats, so big Democratic years tend to be good for women candidates,” said Susan Carroll, senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

Some races are closer than others.

Those with the best chances included Christine Jennings in Florida, Jill Derby and Dina Titus in Nevada, and Alice Kryzan in New York. Derby is running against Republican Dean Heller, who beat her by 5 percentage points two years ago. Titus is challenging Republican Jon Porter and tied him in a Nov. 1 Associated Press poll. These races were still unsettled as of 11 p.m. Tuesday night.

Jennings lost her chance to unseat Rep. Vernon Buchanan, who had garnered 55 percent of the vote as of 11 p.m. Tuesday night.

Safe Bets in Ohio, Maine

Democrat Marcia Fudge of Ohio was projected to easily win her race, securing 87 percent of the votes, filling the seat left vacant by the death Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who died Aug. 19 at age 58. Tubbs Jones, a prominent African American House member, was Fudge’s mentor.

Democrat Chellie Pingree of Maine was a safe bet and was projected to win her race against Republican challenger Charles Summers by CNN with 59 percent of the vote and under one-third of precincts reporting results.

But Democrat Kay Barnes in Missouri and Darcy Burner in Washington are going up against strong incumbents.

“In the House, it’s just so doggone hard to call,” said Claire Giesen, executive director of the Washington-based National Women’s Political Caucus, before election results were in. But she was willing to list seven Democratic shoo-ins: Judy Baker in Missouri, Darcy Burner in Washington, Betsy Markey in Colorado, Suzanne Kosmas in Florida, Chellie Pingree in Maine, Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona and Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy in Ohio.

“That’s seven that I’m not even worried about,” Giesen said.

The tightest of those races was likely to be Burner’s, with results unsettled as of 11 p.m. on Tuesday night and the polls just closing in Washington state. Burner worked for Microsoft before running for Congress in 2006. She lost narrowly to Republican Dave Reichert, whom she is challenging again this year.

Colorado Race Draws Attention

Markey and Musgrave’s has been a race to follow for months, due to a wave of negative campaign ads highlighting their contrasting positions on social issues including abortion. The race has drawn more than $3 million in independent spending from interest groups, according to a report in the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Musgrave’s re-election bid is viewed as a bellwether of the declining influence of social conservatives in Congress as well as in Colorado, where the once solidly Republican electorate is shifting to the Democrats. Musgrave has made abortion rights a key issue for her term in Congress and has introduced a federal bill to require parental notification for abortion.

Giesen said a Democratic tide could produce upset victories for two Democrats in Ohio: Victoria Wulsin and Sharen Neuhardt.

Potential Upsets in Southern States

Democrats Linda Ketner in South Carolina and Annette Taddeo in Florida could also pull out their bids.

Ketner, who is challenging Republican Henry Brown, would be the first openly gay South Carolinian to take office. Taddeo is challenging Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has been in office for nearly 20 years. Taddeo has used Ros-Lehtinen’s longevity in office to link her to unpopular Republican President George W. Bush.

Marie Wilson, founder and president of the White House Project, the New York group that promotes more women in office, said she is watching races in the West: Republican Cynthia Lummis in Wyoming and Democrat Jill Derby in Nevada.

Wilson said she’s also anxious to see how Markey fares against Musgrave in Colorado.

“Musgrave is one of the most conservative on issues that matter to women,” Wilson said.

If women do manage to take 20 percent of House seats, Wilson said the work to elect women is not finished. “We can celebrate, but I think we still have to look at how pathetic that is,” she said. Wilson and others think 33 percent is a better figure to work for; she says women can take more control when they control one-third of the power.

Also in the House, Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays, a pro-choice Republican considered an ally by many women’s rights groups, lost his bid for HIS HOW MANY term in office. CNN projected Democrat James Hines the winner with 57 percent to Shays’ 42 percent at 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Alison Bowen is a New York City-based reporter covering the presidential campaign for Women’s eNews. Her work also appears in the New York Daily News.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.