The roster of congressional candidates for this year’s elections is taking shape and one trend is emerging: 2012 could be another “Year of the Woman” in American politics.
The moniker was famously applied in 1992 when four women were elected to the Senate, a high watermark for the chamber that has never been surpassed.
This year, however, a notable number of candidates are running in potentially competitive races in both the House of Representatives and Senate that could send a wave of female lawmakers to Washington in November. If so, it would reverse the 2010 election trend that saw the first dip in female representation in the House since 1978 and only sent one woman, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, to the Senate.
In the 2012 Senate lineup, there are 10 female candidates — four Republicans and six Democrats — seeking office. Of the six states with female Democratic candidates — Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Dakota and Wisconsin — none has ever elected a woman to the Senate.
Republican women are running in Connecticut, Hawaii, Missouri and New Mexico.
“Both parties have made a concerted effort to attract more women candidates,” said Jessica Taylor, a senior analyst for the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. Taylor said campaign operations are cognizant of seeking out diverse candidates and female candidates can be particularly appealing because independent female voters are often a decisive voting bloc in elections.
Leading female lawmakers — including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who runs the Senate Democrats’ campaign operation — have made concerted efforts to recruit more women to run.
The Democratic congressional campaign operation is fielding candidates in 76 House races they hope to make competitive, and about half of those districts have female candidates.
“Many of us view gender parity as a goal for Congress,” said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who has helped recruit candidates this year.
Democratic candidates include Val Demings, an African-American woman who was Orlando’s first female police chief; Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth in Illinois; and Iowan Christie Vilsack, the wife of former governor and current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., who chairs Democrats’ recruitment, said women can be very effective messengers when so many Americans are worried about kitchen-table issues affecting family finances and when voters increasingly say they want lawmakers to compromise and get things done.