"The Year of the Woman" in national politics was supposed to arrive two years ago, according to some pundits. It didn't. But evidence is mounting that this may very well be the year of a breakthrough for women candidates to Congress.
For one thing, there are twice as many women running for the House and Senate than ever before. They have lots more money than ever. There are more "open" seats than usual, thanks to a record number of retirements and redistricting.
Probably most important, the issues are running to their advantage. Public disgust with congressional antics hurts incumbents, who are overwhelmingly male. Social and economic concerns are at the front of most voters' minds, rather than the hairy-chested issues like the Cold War that seem to favor men.
Although their numbers remain far short of anything like a proportionate share, women increasingly hold offices in local government and the sort of civic activist groups that have long served as political springboards.
They are augmented by women of the baby boom generation who earn good incomes and are ready to contribute significant chunks of their earnings to candidates of their choice. One well-established organization that raises money for Democratic women candidates expects to raise twice as much this year as it did two years ago.
For many of the women, issues closely related to their gender are important factors in their candidacies. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and Lynn H. Yeakel of Pennsylvania, who defeated male Democrats to win Senate nominations, were propelled into their contests by outrage over the treatment of Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas hearing. Abortion weighs heavily in the platforms of many women candidates. Significantly, it is not a partisan issue among the women. The overwhelming majority of women Republican candidates for Congress are pro-choice, along with almost all Democrats.
As long as the nation's faltering political leadership continues to raise doubts about its competence, particularly on issues of overriding importance like health care and the economy, men and women voters alike will turn to candidates who promise a fresh approach. Increasingly they will be women, and the nation will be the better for having a larger pool of talent from which to choose in the November elections.