ELEVEN DEMOCRATIC congresswomen announced yesterday that they are going to invite some 4,000 Democratic women elected to public office to come here in October to discuss the party's 1980 national convention. The congresswomen's press release said the conference "will focus on strategy and communication." Rep. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland put it more succinctly: "This is a conference on clout and make no mistake about it."
Rules for the Democratic convention next year require each state to send an equal number of men and women delegates. The Republican Party has committed itself to endeavoring to ensure equal representation of men and women in state delegations and party chairman Bill Brock said yesterday that all the candidates are trying "very hard to have a balanced delegation."
In 1968, women made up 13 percent of the Democratic and 17 percent of the Republican delegates. By 1976, 34 pecent of the delegates at the Democratic convention and 31 percent of the Republican delegates were women. Both parties, by their new requirements, are opening up unprecedented opportunities for women to exert political influence at the conventions. And women in both parties are planning well ahead so they can take full advantage of the opportunity.
They do not want women attending the conventions as someone's wife, mother or sister. They want women selected in their own right, and it is clear that women's leaders in both parties are at the same time expanding the focus of their interest. They are not going to the conventions merely to get child-care planks written into the platforms anymore.
"I think you're going to have the old baseline fights," says Rep. Susan McLane, chairman of New Hampshire's House Ways and Means Committee and head of the Republican Women's Task Force. "You're really going to have a fight on ERA at the Republican convention. You're going to have a fight to keep an antichoice [abortion] constitutional amendment out of the platform. But beyond that, and much more importantly, I think it is becoming more and more obvious to women that inflation, energy, SALT II, social security, national health, are women's issues also. It think this is what we want: to be out of the day care-abortion fights, which are everyone's fights too, and into the mainstream of political life.
"We've also prepared a very good questionmaire for all Republican candidates on feminist issues and the nitty-gritty of their campaigns," says McLane. "Who's their highest paid woman? How do they plan to use women in their campaigns and in their administration? We've mailed that questionnaire already to them and set up personal interviews with all of them for September. We look at the questionnaire as sort of a two-pronged thing - to look at their stands, and to educate them as to how we're feeling."
She says the task force, which is part of the National Women's Political Caucus, has chairmen in all the states to help and encourage women to run for party delegate. "I think we have learned how important it is to be supporting other women in the delegations and to communicate with them about the issues we find really important. Many of us have the same problems of not being taken seriously by men, not being included unless we yell, and I think it's good for us to know each other. It's a tough sport, politics."
The Democratic congresswomen also emphasized that they will try to generate support and communication among women delegates. The conference will be held here Oct. 27, with the congresswomen leading seed money, and the elected women providing their won expenses to get here. "The women who attend this conference will represent constitutencies throughout the nation," the congresswomen said. "They know how to get elected. We want to urge them to become knowledgeable about the delegate selection process and to being tobuild a communications network that will continue through 1980."
Women in both parties appear to be concentratin their efforts on getting women elected as delegates and getting the views of women expressed in party platforms, rather than endorsing a particular women's candidate. Women in the Republican Women's Task Force - which has a newsletter mailing of about 9,000 - are working for a variety of candidates now, according to McLane.
Jane Pierson McMichael, executive director of the National Women's Political Caucus for the last eight years, said that the Democratic women who attended the caucus' convention in Cincinnatiin July were divided on whom they support as the party's presidential nominee. The caucus is bipartisan and has not endorsed presidential candidates in the past.
She predicts the impact of women on the conventions will be "fairly significant, especially if they are independent and go in with their own agenda . . .Women don't have the organized party ties that men do . . .Women getting involved in politics now tend to be more independent and to view issues in more independent ways than they have in the past."
Historian Betsy Griffith, a founder of te Republican Women's Task Force, says te increasing presence of women in the two political parties "will make an enormous difference." "Having young political activists become powerful in the party gives the older women supporters, it gives the younger women a path to follow, and changes the nature of the party," she says.
"There are a lot of feminists in our party who've not been very outspoken because they haven't had much support in the past, and they've had to be very ladylike over the years."
Griffith predicts general agreement within the Republican and Democratic parties on what issues are important to women: "energy, the economy, employment and inflation all affect women," she says. "The solutions of the two parties are different but the problems are the same."
Democratic and Republican women leaders may be using different strategies to develop political power within their parties. While the congresswomen are planning a huge conference in Washington, Republican women leaders such as party cochairman Mary Crisp have been talking up the importance of women delegates in speeches across the country for the last six months.
Republican and Democratic women leaders are going to emphasize the importance of women influencing party rules and platforms. In that respect their goals in both parties are the same. And women in both parties are measuring Jimmy Carter and taking a long, hard look at alternatives.