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In 1982, five women were elected to the House, including Boxer and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio).
Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), who are in leadership at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, have already begun recruiting candidates for next year and notably reached out to some female former colleagues. Democratic operatives have also begun to search for strong candidates in state legislatures and county boards, which are strong breeding grounds for Congressional candidates. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) was a city council member before she ran in 1992 for the 6th district seat that Boxer vacated.
The example in that northern California district is one Democrats hope to repeat across the country this year. Hawaii Democratic Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa could leave their seats to run for the open Senate seat, creating an opening. If Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) launches a bid for Nevada’s open Senate seat, Titus said she would likely vie for Berkley’s Las Vegas-based 1st district.
“I’ve talked to the DCCC,” Titus said. “At this point I’m staying active, I’m staying involved, I’m keeping options open and I’m certainly not looking away.”
Titus noted that 2010 “was a tough election for women,” particularly those in swing districts. Titus lost to now-Rep. Joe Heck (R) by 1 point, and Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) lost to now-Rep. Joe Walsh (R) by 297 votes — one of the smallest margins in any House race.
First-time challengers including Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire, who lost to Rep. Charles Bass (R), are also said to be considering running again in 2012.
“It gives more opportunity to women who might not otherwise have an opportunity,” Wasserman Schultz said. “It’s important because with a drop in the number of women, we have even less chance to put our stamp on policymaking. There’s a unique perspective that women have.”
While the landscape could lean favorably toward Democratic women next year, the last redistricting cycle was not a total watershed for female candidates. Just seven women were elected to the House and one to the Senate in 2002, the most recent redistricting cycle but also the first election following the 9/11 attacks.
“Women still have a harder time garnering the credibility and support of women voters, particularly on issues relating to national security and foreign policy,” Lawless said. “I see that as a challenge in making these candidates credible and viable. They are qualified, but I think there’s more scrutiny.”
Bean, who lost her first bid for Congress in 2002 before winning in 2004, recently became CEO of the Chicago Executives’ Club. The former New Democrat Coalition member is said to be interested in making a political comeback, and her new post in Chicago promises to keep her in touch with political donors and consultants as she mulls a decision.
“I think she’s looking. Right now she’s not going to rush into that decision,” one Democrat consultant said. “I know she’s able to raise an awful lot of money, and that’s why people like her so much. She doesn’t have to start today.”