WASHINGTON -- The much-vaunted Year of the Woman became a political reality yesterday as women candidates triumphed against history and the odds to win more offices than ever at national and local levels.
The general anti-incumbent mood, specific outrage over the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas imbroglio, widespread sentiment in favor of abortion rights, and the national demand for political change, helped push women to unprecedented power. They arrived on a rising tide of small campaign donations and strong sister-support.
"It's fantastic. We always said that the success of the Year of the Woman would be if we made significant historic change," said Ellen Malcolm, founder of EMILY's List, which contributed $6 million to Democratic women candidates this year in line with its slogan, Early Money is Like Yeast (EMILY).
"We certainly did that. It took us 200 years to help Barbara Mikulski to became the first Democratic woman in the Senate. We are going to get her some more company now.
"We are going to see women candidates elected in historic numbers. We are going to see the gender gap propel Bill Clinton into the White
House. We are going to see women as important financial players in this election."
More women were elected to the Senate yesterday than have been sent there in the past 200 years.
As many as five of the 11 women running for Senate, and perhaps almost half the 108 women running for the House were in line for election.
When Congress adjourned for the election, there were 29 women members of the House, and three in the Senate. Never before has more than one woman been elected to the Senate in any single national election.
Most of the winning women yesterday were Democrats, some riding to victory on the coattails of Gov. Bill Clinton.
"I'm euphoric. I just have to pinch myself," said Harriett Woods of the National Women's Political Caucus, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate against John C. Danforth in Missouri in 1982.
Among the victors was the first black woman to become a U.S. senator, Carol Moseley Braun, 45, of Illinois. Her issue-oriented campaign won the seat held by Democratic Sen. Alan J. Dixon. She defeated Mr. Dixon in an upset in their party's March primary.
She went on yesterday to beat Republican Rich Williamson, a wealthy Chicago lawyer with ties to the Reagan and Bush administrations, fighting off the ethics charges he leveled against her handling of her inheritance from her mother.
She won 59 percent of support from women and 51 percent from men, suggesting that the so-called gender gap was operating in favor of Democrats. ABC reported that 60 percent of working women in Illinois voted for Bill Clinton.
Senator Mikulski was re-elected handily, her shoo-in return adding its own contribution -- one of the most lopsided victories of the 1992 election year -- to the electoral milestone of women candidates.
And Virginia sent its first woman to Congress, when state Rep. Leslie Byrne defeated law professor Henry Butler for a new House seat.
California became the first state to be represented in the Senate by two women, according to a CBS projection.
Barbara Boxer defeated conservative TV commentator Bruce Herschenson on a liberal-based campaign for deeper defense cuts, stricter environmental standards, and abortion and gay rights. And Dianne Feinstein, the former mayor of San Francisco who ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Pete Wilson for governor in 1990, unseated Mr. Wilson's hand-picked Senate successor, John Seymour.
Farther north, in Washington state, Democrat Patty Murray, a day-care worker, substitute teacher and state senator, successfully ran as "A Mom in Tennis Shoes" to beat five-term Rep. Rod Chandler for the Senate seat vacated by Brock Adams.
"We will never go back," said Jane Danowitz of the Women's Campaign Fund. "We are never going to have a white all-male Senate Judiciary Committee ever again. What is more important, we don't have to explain why we should have women in office. We are just going to spend our time electing them."
But there were tough battles.
Lynn H. Yeakel from Pennsylvania, a political unknown who was goaded to challenge Republican Sen. Arlen Specter after his partisan in quisition of Anita F. Hill during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice-designate Clarence Thomas, lost in a close contest.
She told the Democratic National Convention in July: "I can no longer stand by after this senator humiliated American women with his shameless performance last fall."
The raw outrage of a comparative political novice was pitted against the veteran Senator Specter, who spent twice as much on his campaign and who said he had acquired a new awareness of the problem of sexual harassment.
In a tight race in Missouri, Geri Rothman-Serot gave Republican incumbent Christopher S. Bond a run for his money before losing.
Another veteran Republican of the Senate, Bob Dole, of Kansas, had an easier time rebuffing the challenge of Democrat Gloria O'Dell, who dubbed her vain underdog campaign "Gloria vs. Goliath."