Right Time for Women

April 30, 1992

Lynn Yeakel, who won the Democratic nomination for a U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania, says, "I was in the right place at the right time."

If Pennsylvania is the right place for a woman candidate, that is great news for the Democratic Party. Pennsylvania has been a hostile state to women politicians. It has no women members of Congress. (Maryland has three women representatives and a senator.) Only 7 percent of its state legislature is female (Maryland: 24 percent). So if a woman can win election there, the fact that 18 of the 21 women running for the Senate this year are Democrats could mean big gains for the party.

The Senate has only two women members. It would benefit from more. It is high time the diversity of America was reflected in the Senate. (And, of course, in the House of Representatives.)

The Senate also would benefit from having members who, like Mrs. Yeakel, a full-time fund-raiser for women's charities, come from non-government endeavors. We believe in apprenticeship in government (a la Barbara Mikulski), but also in variety. To slightly paraphrase Mrs. Yeakel, "The politics of experience can be more valuable for a senator than the experience of politics." Some great legislators entered politics at the Senate level.

Mrs. Yeakel is a long way from being elected to the Senate. Her Republican opponent, two-term Sen. Arlen Specter, is a formidable campaigner and vote-getter. In 1986, he was re-elected with ease in a year in which seven other freshmen Republican senators were losing their seats.

Tuesday's voting was something of a Yeakel-Specter race. She campaigned almost exclusively against him. She was offended

by his grilling of Anita Hill at the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. His demeanor and subsequent vote for Judge Thomas offended a lot of women. But on the question, "Should the Senate have confirmed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court after Anita Hill's accusations?" more Pennsylvania voters -- Democrats and Republicans -- answered "yes" (48 percent) than "no" (35 percent) in exit polling.

Mrs. Yeakel is the second woman to win a Democratic Senate primary this year largely, if not entirely, on the Anita Hill issue. The first was Carol Moseley Braun in Illinois, where the loser was an incumbent senator who had voted to confirm Judge Thomas. Obviously, it is a cutting issue. But it is not enough. If the Senate is to be enriched by more women members, candidates Yeakel and Braun and others like them must become full-fledged, multi-issue candidates. The U.S. Senate is no place for Joannie One Notes.

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