With female candidates faltering, the number of women in Congress is likely to fall

The GOP's 2010 primary season has given rise to a number of new female faces, many of whom have enjoyed the support of the party's most high profile woman: Sarah Palin.
By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 9:07 AM

Are women losing ground in politics?

Despite a slew of high-profile female candidates - and an aggressive push by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin to promote "mama grizzly" Republican women - the number of women in Congress is poised to decline for the first time in decades, according to several independent analyses.

The hits may be most severe for Democrats: Up to a quarter of Democratic women in the House are considered vulnerable, and two senators elected in the history-making "Year of the Woman" in 1992, Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Patty Murray (Wash.), have had tough races. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), the first female chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is running behind in her reelection bid.

And, of course, if Democrats lose the House, the first female House speaker, Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) will lose her post. The GOP has just one woman in its leadership ranks, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), who is vice chairman of the Republican caucus.

Republican women, too, have had a reality check: Fewer of them won their primaries this year than in 2004, according to an analysis by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.

Female challengers in both parties are in uphill fights across the board. Libby Mitchell, a Democrat running for governor in Maine, is struggling against her Republican rival. Alex Sink, a rising star among Democratic women who is running for governor in Florida, is in a dead heat. Democrat Robin Carnahan appears to be struggling badly against Rep. Roy Blunt (R) in the Missouri Senate race.

Even some of the women who have grabbed so much attention this year are in jeopardy. In Delaware's Senate race, Republican Christine O'Donnell appears no match for Democrat Chris Coons.

Republican Sharron Angle is in a dead heat with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D) in Nevada.

In Connecticut, Republican Linda McMahon is trailing Richard Blumenthal, her Democratic rival for the open Senate seat.

In California's gubernatorial contest, Republican Meg Whitman appears to be slipping behind Democrat Jerry Brown.

In Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski may eke out a victory - but only after losing the GOP primary and staging a write-in campaign.

Some women, including a few of Palin's political progeny, look like they will fare just fine: Republican Nikki Haley has held onto her lead in the South Carolina governor's race, and in New Hampshire, Republican Kelly Ayotte appears to be ahead of her male rival in the Senate contest.

In certain states, women are running against each other, so a female victory is guaranteed. In California, Republican Carly Fiorina is challenging Sen. Barbara Boxer (D); in New Mexico, Republican Susana Martinez and Democrat Diane Denish are competing for governor; and Oklahoma's gubernatorial race pits Democrat Jari Askins against Republican Rep. Mary Fallin.

But the Oklahoma campaign is evidence of the climate many women have faced this year. In one of their last debates, Fallin suggested that Askins is less fit to serve as governor because she has never been a mother. The comment elicited groans from some in the audience.

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