Year of the women Female candidates: Will 1996 produce another boost in number of women legislators?

September 05, 1996

THE 1992 ELECTIONS almost doubled the number of women in Congress, the result of a record number of women candidates. Commentators called 1992 the "year of the woman," reflecting a surge of political activity among women generally attributed to negative fallout from the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings the year before.

By 1994, the spotlight had turned from women candidates to Newt Gingrich and his brash young Republicans who swung control of Congress to the GOP. The Republican victory prompted descriptions of that electoral season as the "year of the angry white male." This year, with an incumbent Democratic president enjoying a comfortable lead in the polls, some pundits are wondering whether this can be the "year of the women."

One factor that has spurred the increase in women candidates is the increase in PAC money flowing to them. EMILY's list (Early Money Is Like Yeast), a PAC which funds pro-choice, Democratic women candidates, has now been joined by bipartisan women's hTC PACs (including one that funds women who oppose abortion), as well as a separate PAC that focuses on pro-choice Republican women candidates.

That money has been a significant factor in the success of female candidates. The fact that EMILY's List disbursed almost as much money in 1995, an off-year, as the $6.1 million it distributed in 1992 suggests that lack of money is no longer the handicap it once was for women candidates.

But the emergence of women office-holders cannot be charted by a smooth, upward curve. Although women have held their own in Congress, with a slight increase since 1992, the number of female governors -- five in 1992 -- has fallen to only one, New Jersey Republican Christine Todd Whitman.

Today, women are 53 percent of the electorate, but they comprise only 9 percent of the Senate, 11 percent of the House of Representatives, 2 percent of governors, and 21 percent of state legislators. Those percentages could inch up this fall, but congressional numbers won't double as they did in 1992. That's because there are enough women in office that it takes more than a handful to double the ranks.

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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