THERE WERE 29 women in the House and two in the Senate during the 101st Congress, and those numbers will remain the same for the 102nd. It's a different story in the states. According to the Women's Campaign Fund, a political committee supporting pro-choice female candidates, this has been a record year for women running for state-wide office. More than half of the 85 candidates were elected, and when they take office next year, a total of 59 women will be in these high posts.

None of this will come as a surprise in this area. Women were elected city-wide for mayor of the District of Columbia, for two at-large seats on the city council and for delegate to Congress. And adjacent jurisdictions already have women in state-wide office: Mary Sue Terry, the attorney general of Virginia, and Barbara Mikulski, a U.S. senator from Maryland. But around the country and across party lines, voters chose women for important leadership positions.

In some states, certain offices have traditionally gone to women, so the election results were no surprise. For example, five of the six females elected to be lieutenant governor ran against other women. So did half of those chosen to be secretary of state. But the big surprise is in the financial offices never thought to be safe slots for either sex and now, in particular, acknowledged to be positions of crucial significance. Next year, women will be treasurers in 16 states, chief auditor in another five and comptroller in one. This may be the route to the executive mansion, since two of the three women winning governorships -- Ann Richards in Texas and Joan Finney in Kansas -- had earlier been treasurers. Barbara Roberts, the new governor of Oregon, has been secretary of state.

The women elected to state-wide office don't subscribe to a common agenda. Like the women in Congress, they are Republicans and Democrats, antiabortion and for abortion rights, big-spenders and fiscal conservatives. They are exactly as diverse as their male counterparts, and at this point they appear to be just as acceptable -- for any state office, at least -- to the electorate. It is the differences among women seeking office that force voters to assess them as individuals and not as stereotypes. Like their male counterparts, they run to represent their constituents, not their sex. And with increasing frequency, the gender of candidates is becoming irrelevant at the polls.