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A redistricting year might mean the end of a safely drawn Congressional seat or a looming primary battle between two House incumbents for some. But for female politicians, a redistricting year has historically given them better odds at being elected to Congress.
“We look particularly at these cycles that allow the redistricting as pretty significant opportunities for women candidates across the country,” said Stephanie Schriock, director of EMILY’s List, a group dedicated to electing pro-abortion-rights Democratic women.
“It really opens up doors because you have new seats, you have new districts and new lines,” Schriock told Roll Call. “Really for the last 10 years, we’ve worked to have a pipeline for women to be ready to run for office.”
While nothing’s certain, redistricting presents women with a chance they don’t often get: a shot at an open seat rather than a challenge to an incumbent.
With so many factors going into a campaign, it’s difficult to pinpoint whether gender is a factor in winning or losing. But women’s groups such as EMILY’s List believe the odds are in their favor in 2012 and are hoping on repeats of 1992 and 2002 to shore up their numbers.
“It creates more open seats, and it induces more incumbent retirement. And so any time that you’ve got a white-male-dominated political institution that sees an upsurge in retirements, any marginalized group stands to benefit,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University. “There’s no question it creates a more favorable political opportunity structure.”
In states such as Florida, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, which are gaining seats because of reapportionment, multiple one-term Congresswomen — including Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.), Dina Titus (Nev.) and Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.) — are looking to make a comeback.
“If the opportunity is there, I’m taking it,” Titus said of 2012. “I don’t feel burnt out, I don’t feel the last session was indicative of what the future holds. It was a very close race.”
Two dozen women were elected to the House in 1992 and five to the Senate. The controversial confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas led by an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee and the presidential election that swept Bill Clinton into office contributed to the wave that became known as “The Year of the Woman.” But 1992 was also a redistricting year, and the dozens of open seats created throughout the country gave female candidates a fresh opportunity to run for office.
In California alone, which gained seven seats in 1992, six women were elected to the House. Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer were elected to the Senate that year, making the Golden State’s the first all-female Senate delegation.