Women Could Win Big On Nov. 5


Voters in nine states will determine on Nov. 5 whether 2002 will live up to its billing as "the year of the woman governor."

October 29 Voters in nine states will determine on Nov. 5 whether 2002 will live up to its billing as "the year of the woman governor."

Five states currently have women governors, but only two are holdovers Montana's Republican Gov. Judy Martz and Delaware's Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. But with women in nine states running for the top job, come election day there could be as many as 11 female governors.

Here's the breakdown:

  • In Alaska, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer (D) is running against U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski (R).
  • In Arizona, Attorney General Janet Napolitano (D) faces U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon (R).
  • In Arkansas, state Treasurer Jimmie Lou Fisher (D) is taking on incumbent Gov. Mike Huckabee (R).
  • In Hawaii, the election of a woman governor is assured since it's a female-only race, with former mayor of Maui and state GOP Chair Linda Lingle (R) opposing Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono (D).
  • In Kansas, Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius (D) opposes state Treasurer Tim Shallenburger (R).
  • In Maryland, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) is running against U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich (R).
  • In Massachusetts, state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien (D) faces president and CEO of Salt Lake City Organizing Committee for 2002 Olympic Games, Mitt Romney (R).
  • In Michigan, it's Attorney General Jennifer Granholm (D) against Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus (R).
  • And in Rhode Island, former state Sen. Myrth York (D) is competing against businessman Don Carcieri (R). 

This isn't the first time a relatively large number of women have run for governor. In 1994, 34 women filed to run and ten were nominated. But the women were shut out in that year's general election.

This year is likely to yield a different outcome, according to several political analysts and women's advocacy groups.

"It's not that this is a record number of women running. It's that these candidates are so strong and so viable. They really do have a shot." said Janet Harris, communications director at EMILY's List, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C. that helps finance political campaigns for pro-choice, Democratic women.

Harris and other experts said the difference this year is that women candidates boast more "executive" experience than ever before. Many have held statewide offices such as attorney general, state treasurer, lieutenant governor and insurance commissioner.

Another factor is that all but one of the female candidates are running for open seats rather than against incumbents, who've been historically hard to defeat.

"There's no question you're tough enough to be governor if you've already been attorney general." said Shauna Shamen, research director at The White House Project, a New York City-based non-profit dedicated to helping women win elected office.

Most of the female candidates running against male opponents are either leading in pre-election public opinion polls or their race falls within the margin of error, Harris said. In Arkansas, Fisher, is considered a long-shot by some analysts who say she faces "an uphill battle" against incumbent Huckabee.

Hawaii's gubernatorial race is only the second in U.S. history to pit female candidates against each other. The first gubernatorial race between women was in Nebraska in 1986 when state Treasurer Kay Orr defeated Lincoln Mayor Helen Boosalis.

In Michigan, Granholm was dubbed "Jenni the Giant Slayer" by the New York Times after soundly defeating two legends in the Democratic primary; former Gov. James Blanchard and U.S. Rep. David Bonior. Granholm, who would be Michigan's first woman governor, currently holds a solid lead over Republican Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus in the polls.

The Massachusetts race is another that's getting national attention. Polls indicate the O'Brien-Romney contest is neck-and-neck. Like Granholm, O'Brien would be the first woman elected governor in her state. The accent is on elected Republican Lt. Gov. Jane Swift became acting governor in 2001 when Paul Cellucci resigned to become President Bush's ambassador to Canada. Swift, who careened from controversy to controversy during her tenure as lieutenant governor, chose not to try to be elected in her own right.

Some political analysts say this year's potential for more female governors bodes well for the possibility of a woman president in the future.

"Women are becoming the final authority," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, explaining that more women are strongly competing for executive state office.

Walsh points out that four of the past five U.S. presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush -- rose from the ranks of the nation's governors.

Beverly Neufeld, executive director of The White House Project, said that if women claim more top state posts it will help Americans become more comfortable with the idea of a woman president.

"That's what will make this country ready for, instead of the year of the woman governor,' the year of the woman president,'" Neufeld said.


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