More Women Running In State Elections
By Greg McDonald, Senior Writer
Across the country, at least 131 women have announced or have plans to run for high state office. Twenty-nine of them are vying for governorships in 18 states and the U.S. territory of Guam.
Some of the governors' races may be more competitive than expected, especially in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts and Michigan. Voters in three of those states - Arizona, Kansas and Massachusetts - may even see head-to-head match-ups between women candidates in the November general election.
Much of the focus this year will be on gubernatorial contests, but at least 29 women in 19 states are planning to run for lieutenant governor; seven women are running for attorney general in seven states; and 20 women in 14 states have filed their qualification papers for secretary of state. Another 42 women have declared, or soon will, for other high-ranking state offices, ranging from state treasurer to agriculture commissioner. Women are also running to head state labor and insurance departments and, in Texas, the state railroad commission.
"What's really unique about this year is that most of these candidates have held statewide elective office before. That's a major difference this year, and we believe that makes them more electable," says Gilda Morales, a program coordinator with the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics.
But some political observers contend that women - even incumbents - won't fare as well as hoped this year because the issues that could end up dominating the campaigns - homeland defense and strained budgets - may favor male candidates.
"Before September 11, it looked like this would be another year of the woman. But since then, things have changed," says Shauna Shames, research director of the White House Project, an organization that promotes female leadership in government with an eye toward one day placing a woman in the White House. "These military-type issues are not the ones women traditionally have the most credibility on with voters."
In an effort to help women candidates this fall, the White House Project is conducting a study to gauge voter perceptions of women as strong leaders. Ultimately, the aim of the study is to "identify and alleviate the discrimination that hinders women leaders," project president Marie Wilson wrote in a recent letter to the organization's supporters.
Wilson expressed concern the events of September 11 may have created "one of the toughest political climates for women in decades."
That may prove to be the case, although Morales and other political observers insist that a woman's incumbency or previous officeholder's status will carry more weight with voters than concerns about gender or issues. No matter how it plays out however, one thing is certain: the terrorist attacks have not deterred women from seeking statewide office with the same enthusiasm they've shown in recent elections. The figures may differ slightly, but the number of women running for the states' highest offices this year is about the same as 1994 and 1998.
The races in 1994 were among the most successful for women. That year, a record 10 of 34 women running for governor were nominated by their parties. Only Republican Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, who now heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, went on to win.
Today,Arizona, Delaware, Massachusetts, Montana and New Hampshire have women governors. The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico also has a woman governor.
Among the would-be governors running this year, Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is considered a shoo-in. At least 10 other female gubernatorial hopefuls, including former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, a Democratic candidate in Florida, Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano (D), Hawaii Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Lingle and Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm (D), are expected to win their primaries and then run strong general election campaigns.
Massachusetts Acting Gov. Jane Swift also is favored to win her primary. But that could change if Massachusetts businessman Mitt Romney, who won rave reviews for his stewardship of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, decides to challenge her for the GOP nomination. Romney, who lost a 1994 U.S. Senate challenge to Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, has commissioned a poll of voters to help make a decision.
Going into the 2002 races, 88 women hold statewide office. That's about 27 percent of the 321 statewide elective positions available, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Forty-three of those in office are Democrats, 41 are Republicans, one is an Independent and three are not affiliated with any party. Only two states - Maine and West Virginia - have failed to elect a woman to a top state office.
Since women now account for nearly 51 percent of the U.S. population and are more likely to vote than men, Morales is optimistic this year could be a repeat of the 1994 record for women candidates. "We believe there's a good chance we could have more than 10 nominees for governor," she says.
The 1994 election season also produced a record 29 women nominees for lieutenant governor, of whom 19 went on to win. Today 17 women serve as lieutenant governor in Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wisconsin.
Morales says Ohio has already given women and minorities at least one win in the lieutenant governor column this year. That's because Republican Gov. Bob Taft and his Democratic opponent Tim Hagen have tapped black women as their running mates. One of them, barring any problems, will end up as the state's second highest-ranking official.
Taft, who at the moment appears to be favored for re-election, chose Columbus City Councilwoman Jennette Bradley. Hagan picked Columbus City Councilwoman Charleta Tavares. Tavares, a former state legislator, was the first black woman to hold a leadership position in the Ohio Assembly. She served as minority whip.