The Congressional Family Values Scandal and Female Candidates

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Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that women running for office do better when men boggle it. And if that's true, then no recent congressional election could benefit women more than this year's, what with the abrupt resignation of former Rep. Mark Foley, the Florida Republican who sent "overly friendly"–and sexually explicit, in some cases–E-mails and instant messages to male House pages. But will the men's problems really translate into more female members of Congress?

Right now there are 14 women in the U.S. Senate (five Republicans, nine Democrats) and 67 in the U.S. House (24 Republicans and 43 Democrats.) As recently as 31 years ago, there were 19 women in the U.S. House and none in the Senate. That number has risen in each election–stubbornly molasseslike, according to some anxious observers (present company included), but risen nonetheless.

John Fortier, an American Enterprise Institute scholar writing in the Hill newspaper, says the current climate favors women. He writes: "Research shows that women do just as well as men in running as incumbents, challenging incumbents, and running for open seats. As more seats open up and as the number of women running for office increases, so inevitably does the number of women in Congress rise. According to the Center for American Women in Politics, there are 139 women running for the House on major-party tickets and 12 in the Senate, significantly up from 20 years ago. And as the National Council on State Legislatures reports, the pool of potential female candidates with political experience is deep, as women make up 22.6 percent of state legislatures."

Still, it's unclear whether this year will turn out to be another "Year of the Woman" in national politics. At least, things do not appear to be shaping up that way. While women may hold more seats in Congress, it could be just a handful more. The Hill, for example, projects a gain of one or two seats for women in the U.S. Senate and a pickup of six to 10 seats in the House. What's more, I've been hearing a lot about women securing major-party nominations to challenge other women in this political season, and I've wondered whether 2006 might be a record year for women in that regard. Sorry, nope, says the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University. In 1998, 14 women ran against women (one in the Senate and 13 in the House). This year, there are 11 such woman vs. woman races–nine in the House and two in the Senate. So, unless there is a sudden turn of events, the pace of change will remain, well, stubbornly molasseslike.