In Clinton’s Big Shadow

Few Women Running in Marquee Congressional Races

Posted January 22, 2007 at 6:58pm

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) would make history if she wins the presidency in 2008, but her victory could be lonely.

While it is early in the cycle, women do not look to be on track to match the historic Congressional gains they achieved in 2006.

A record-high number of women are serving in the 110th Congress as a result of November’s elections. The Senate got two newcomers, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar (D) and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill (D), and welcomed back six veterans, helping 2006 surpass 1992’s “Year of the Woman,” in electing women to that exclusive club.

There also is now a record number of women serving in the House.

According to Rutgers University, 139 women of all parties were on the November ballot for the House. Seventy-one won.

But looking toward 2008, a woman is looking at a marquee Senate race in only one state so far — New Hampshire. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) declined to take on Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and several others appear to be waiting for open gubernatorial races in 2010, rather than jumping into tough Senate battles this time.

Katrina Swett (D), who began her challenge to Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) by forming a campaign committee last week, said more women will join the battle.

Other potential candidates include Alabama state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures (D), who is pondering challenging Sen. Jeff Sessions (R), and Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.), who could be pressured into running if Sen. Tim Johnson (D) is unable to seek a third term due to his health problems.

“I do think it’s early in the process,” Swett said, noting that the Granite State usually leads the way politically because of its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. “I think you will see women standing up” later in the cycle.

Former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) has not definitively ruled out a Senate run, and Swett said she would possibly reconsider her own candidacy if Shaheen, who lost to Sununu in 2002, sought a rematch.

Also keeping the numbers down is the fact that only three women Senators, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu (D), Maine’s Susan Collins (R) and North Carolina’s Elizabeth Dole (R), are up for re-election this cycle, versus six in the previous cycle.

Martha McKenna, campaign services director for EMILY’s List, which helps elect female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, said 2006 did not become the “banner year” for women that it was until far later in the cycle.

“I think we’re going to make gains in 2008,” she said. “I think there will be a number of important House and Senate races come together.”

Women candidates were a big part of the Democrats’ successful bid to capture control of the House last year, ousting incumbents such as Reps. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) and Jim Ryun (R-Kan.).

But Democratic women also lost another dozen competitive races, in some cases just by the narrowest of margins. In Florida’s 13th district, banker Christine Jennings (D) is still challenging the result that saw now-Rep. Vern Buchanan (R) win by 369 votes.

Some of the 2006 House losers may try to run again next year, including Jennings, Tessa Hafen in Nevada’s 3rd district, Darcy Burner in Washington’s 8th district, and Mary Jo Kilroy in Ohio’s 15th district. If Kilroy opts against a rematch with Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), Franklin County Commissioner Paula Brooks (D) could run.

But with 30 Democratic House pickups in 2006, there simply may be fewer places where women can expect to run strongly in 2008.

Swett predicted that Clinton’s White House candidacy will encourage others to follow suit.

“Sen. Clinton would be a positive thing at the top of the ticket, she conveys enormous strength and tremendous credibility,” Swett said. “Her candidacy has the real potential to draw a significant number of new voters to the polls and that has the trickle-down effect to races like mine.”

EMILY’s List leaders also think that will be the case.

“I think that we are going to see women voters participating at record levels and I think that bodes well for all Democrats and particularly for women candidates,” McKenna said. “I think it will be a net positive, for energy and volunteerism and voter turnout.”

Jennifer Psaki, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that while it is too early to talk about specific recruiting strategies, DCCC officials are confident that more women will run, inspired by Clinton, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and some of the 2006 winners.

“There is no question that the success of prominent women like Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton has paved the way for up and comers like [Reps.] Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) and Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.),” Psaki said.

But that is no guarantee that more women will wind up running and women in competitive races.

“It would be a disappointment if there was a retrenchment after the successes of 2006,” Swett said.