A lot has been said about this being the year of the woman candidate, and rightly so. Over 60 percent more women are running for Congress this year than two years ago. Many expect to win.
In the Senate races, about half the women candidates are likely to win. Eleven are running and, according to the most recent polls, women candidates are ahead in five races. In a sixth race, the woman candidate appears to be closing the gap between her and a male incumbent.
Two women candidates (Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein) are ahead in California, in races for a full term and an unexpired term. Their leads are 10 and 18 percentage points respectively. They are probably the best bets among women who are not incumbents. (Maryland's Sen. Barbara Mikulski has the largest lead of any woman candidate this year, 38 points.) Carol Moseley Braun leads in her Senate race in Illinois by some 30 points and Patty Murray is 19 points ahead in Washington.
One new poll shows Lynn Yeakel only 2 points behind in her race in Pennsylvania. Her race is interesting because her opponent is Sen. Arlen Specter. He was one of the most critical questioners of Anita Hill during the Senate Judiciary Committee's 1991 hearings on Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearing. Many political analysts say those hearings are a major factor in the increased interest in politics by women this year. Senator Mikulski has said women candidates and voters this year want "revenge" for those hearings.
Women's interest in politics this year and their feelings about themselves as an interest group are also seen in contests in pTC which there are no women candidates. The best example of that is at the top. The latest Los Angeles Times Poll shows Bill Clinton only 8 points ahead of George Bush among men, but 21 points ahead among women. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows Governor Clinton 29 points ahead among women under age 40.
Such figures suggest the governor can suffer a considerable fall off in support among men and still be elected. In fact, in several states George Bush now leads Bill Clinton among men but is thought likely to lose the state because of women's votes. For example, in North Carolina the president leads among men voters 42-39, according to a recent poll, but is behind among all voters, 38-44, because of a Clinton lead among women of 15 points. The gender gap is clearly a threat to President Bush as well as to several male Senate candidates this year. To the degree that Anita Hill contributed to that gap, nominating Clarence Thomas may turn out to have been part of George Bush's political undoing.