WASHINGTON -- In the wake of major victories for women in last year's congressional races, the stakes and opportunities for female candidates will be even higher in the 1994 elections for governors, according to Harriett Woods, president of the National Women's Political Caucus.
"Next year will be a big challenge for us to hold our own or do a little better," said Ms. Woods, whose group is holding a committee meeting this weekend in Boston. "While women increased their numbers in Congress in a dramatic way, we hold only three governorships. My wish list is for a total of six."
This fall, the caucus is supporting a Republican woman for governor in New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman, and a Democratic woman for governor in Virginia, Mary Sue Terry, the state's former attorney general.
"Our focus is on those who support the political agenda for women, not their political party," Ms. Woods said in an interview last week. A key issue for the group is abortion rights.
Ms. Woods, a former lieutenant governor of Missouri, said 35 women are at least considering a run for governor in the 36 races next year. She expects that a dozen or more will run. Of the three female governors, all Democrats, Ann Richards of Texas and Barbara Roberts of Oregon are seeking re-election; Joan Finney of Kansas is not.
Among the gubernatorial candidates whom the caucus is expected to endorse and support financially are three Democrats -- Attorney General Bonnie Campbell, in Iowa; Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch, in Illinois; and state Sen. Debbie Stabenow, in Michigan.
Ms. Woods said more women are running for governor because they have "moved up the ladder from city council and the state legislature to a new political staging area."
"The traditional barriers for women have been that they didn't understand finance and were not tough enough on law and order," she said. "That is no longer true."
She noted that the task of raising money is no longer as intimidating for female candidates as in the past.
Ms. Woods said the caucus is concentrating also on holding its freshmen seats in Congress. Forty-seven women were elected last year, 19 more than served in the previous Congress. Their numbers in the Senate have increased from two to seven. The re-election in California of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whom the group plans to endorse this weekend, is another top priority, Ms. Woods said.
She also said the group had chosen not to endorse Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, a Republican who was indicted last week on charges of improper political use of state employees when she was state treasurer.
Ms. Woods said the decision not to endorse Ms. Hutchison was based on the senator's refusal to offer clear support for the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision affirming the right to abortion.
The caucus, at its annual "Good Guys" awards dinner in Washington next month, plans to honor Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts. Mr. Weld is being honored for offering more Cabinet posts to women, 45.5 percent, than any other governor.
It is the first time that a Republican governor has finished first in the caucus' survey of the states.