Record Number of Women Will Sit in Senate

Wednesday, 07 Nov 2012 07:40 AM

 

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Women will occupy a record number of U.S. Senate seats — roughly one in five — in January, following historic victories in Tuesday's balloting.

As many as five women could win election to the Senate once all ballots are counted, with victors already declared in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Nebraska, and races too close to call in North Dakota.
Currently, 17 women — the most yet — serve in the chamber, and two of them, Republicans Olympia Snowe of Maine and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, are retiring.

All but one of the women who prevailed at the ballot box are Democrats. They probably benefited from the momentum of President Barack Obama’s campaign and from Senate Democrats’ painting Republicans as waging a “war against women” that would limit reproductive rights, said Barbara Lee, founder and president of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which seeks to boost women’s representation in elective office.

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At the same time, the increased numbers of women in both parties in Congress and governorships breeds more success, she said.

“The more women hold office, the more the barriers dissipate,” Lee said in an interview.

Before midnight, it was clear that the Senate would retain a record number of women, and it would be a bipartisan effort.

First, Republican Deb Fischer, a Nebraska state senator, was declared the winner over former two-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey for an open seat. Minutes later, Harvard University professor Elizabeth Warren, whose attacks on Wall Street fueled her political rise in the Democratic Party, won her race against incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown.

The record was set less than an hour later, when U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, claimed victory over Republican Tommy Thompson, the state’s longest- serving governor and former U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. Like Warren, Baldwin is the first woman to represent her state in the U.S. Senate.

Women have been making steady gains since the election of 1992, dubbed the Year of the Woman, when there were seven women in the Senate. Even so, in state legislatures that provide a pipeline to higher office, gains have been slower. Female representation stands at 24 percent, just three percentage points higher than two decades ago, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

For statewide elective office, one of clearest paths to governorships, it has risen 1 percentage point in that time, to 23 percent, down from a high of 28 percent in 2001.

This election year’s wins include the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka in Hawaii. There, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat, defeated former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

In North Dakota, former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp was leading Republican U.S. Representative Rick Berg by almost 51 percent to 49 percent, with 99 percent of the state’s precincts reporting. Both are seeking to replace Senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

Nevada Contest

Meanwhile, the Republican candidate in New Mexico, former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, lost her battle for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman. Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich prevailed. In Nevada, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Demmocrat lost to incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller.

At Emily’s List, a political action committee geared toward elected pro-choice, Democratic women, officials heralded results that returned to the chamber all Democratic incumbent female senators up for re-election this year. They include Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Dianne Feinstein of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

“Women in America want leaders with the right priorities, who will stand up for women and families — not roll the clock back on our rights and freedoms,” Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, said in an e-mailed statement.

Editor's Note: Prepare for Financial Pearl Harbor -- See Surprising Video With Steve Forbes

While four states today are represented by two female senators — New Hampshire, Maine, California and Washington — that’s one area that will see a decline in the next congressional session. Snowe, who has represented Maine in the chamber for three terms, will be replaced by independent Angus King, a former Maine governor.

In neighboring New Hampshire, female incumbent senators Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, and Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, will be part of another first. New Hampshire in January becomes the only state to have women in the governor’s mansion, in both Senate seats, and in all House seats.

That comes after Democrat Maggie Hassan won her race for governor against Republican Ovide Lamontagne, and Democrats Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster wrested New Hampshire’s two House seats from incumbent Republicans Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass.

© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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