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Women in Congress at All-Time High

By Johanna Ettin, Oral History Project Director

November 19, 2008

Women everywhere won as the number of feminist women in Congress increased to a record high of 77, including three delegates to the House. As of this writing, an Ohio race is still in the undecided column. NOW PAC sent staff to several races in battleground states and also ran phone banks for eight endorsed candidates from the NOW office in D.C. Across the country, NOW volunteers and activists had key roles in critical campaigns and ballot measure efforts.

The Senate gained two great women. Former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen, a longtime feminist, upset conservative Senator John Sununu. NOW PAC endorsed Shaheen and has supported her in a number of races over the years, and we look forward to welcoming her to Capitol Hill as a champion of progressive issues.

Although Kay Hagan's defeat of Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina's Senate race is a wash as far as numbers of women are concerned, it was certainly a gain for women's rights. Two NOW PAC staff members traveled to North Carolina to work for Hagan in the final weeks, and the effort paid off. Not only did Hagan win decisively, but there's some evidence that her supporters helped pull off Obama's narrow victory in that state. Hagan, who called to thank NOW PAC for our support, has a proven record of supporting quality child care, reproductive rights and health care for women from her years in the North Carolina Senate, and she will be an energetic addition to the growing feminist caucus on Capitol Hill.

Several NOW PAC endorsed women will be entering the House of Representatives in January. In Colorado, Betsey Markey handily defeated arch-conservative Rep. Marilyn Musgrave with the assistance of two NOW PAC staff members who led a campus get-out-the-vote effort in the district. In Nevada, political scientist and State Senate leader Dina Titus defeated Rep. Jon Porter, and Chellie Pingree, past president of Common Cause, won an open seat in Maine. NOW PAC staff also worked on Florida Democrat Suzanne Kosmas's campaign, where she defeated incumbent Rep. Tom Feeney. A former member of the state legislature and small business owner, Kosmas will be a strong supporter of our issues in Congress.

Another women's rights supporter, Ann Kirkpatrick, took an open seat in Arizona formerly held by Republican Rick Renzi, despite the strong vote for Senator John McCain in that state. Another party turnover of an open seat occurred when Deborah Halvorson won in Illinois. Halvorson, who served as the majority leader of the Illinois State Senate, is expected to continue her focus on women's issues and health care.

Although women are a long way from equal representation in Congress, and not all the women in Congress are supporters of women's rights and equality, every year the numbers come closer to what some political scientists identify as a tipping point, where women have large enough numbers to assert their power over the legislative agenda. In both houses of Congress, women are progressing in leadership and chairing influential committees. We expect to make significant advances for women in this hopeful climate.

NOW PAC also endorsed a number of feminist male candidates, several of whom are new to the Congress and will serve as reinforcements in Congress for returning members who support women's rights. Check out the NOW PAC endorsed winners.


 
 
 

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