"Women's leadership was stuck at every level," said Wilson, who co-founded the project in 1998. "But the time now is right. It's kind of a tipping point if you will. We have something going very different now at the top and at the bottom."
But still, the majority of incumbents are men, and incumbents are always tough to unseat.
"There is enormous advantage to incumbency in the U.S. electoral system, and you have a system with minimal [numbers of] women participating," said former Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift, a Republican. "Incumbents win 90 percent of the time. Unless we come up with something dramatic, progress will continue to be slow."
That and the astronomical costs of running a campaign, said Moseley Braun, who served as ambassador to New Zealand from 1999 to 2001, stack the odds against women.
"I have $100,000 in debt from my attempt to run [for president]," said Braun, who said both parties should find a woman to run for every vacant seat. "Women don't have access to the companies, the lobby, the K Street crowd that gives fundraisers."
But experts keep calling Clinton a presidential front-runner. A Marist College Institute for Public Opinion poll found that Clinton leads both Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, with 41 percent of the respondents saying they would pick her for the party's nomination. However, when pitted against Republican front-runners, such as former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani or Sen. John McCain of Arizona, she trailed by nearly 10 points.
Swift, 40, knows as well as anyone how difficult balancing politics and family can be.
She was pregnant both during her campaign for lieutenant governor and again when she was sworn in as acting governor after Gov. Paul Cellucci resigned to become ambassador to Canada. As lieutenant governor, she faced media scrutiny for using statehouse aides to pick up her children from day care.
"Most women like flexibility, and increasingly, there is a recognition that women will gear up and [gear] down their careers based on the different desires you have as a parent," she said.
Swift said motherhood can deter women from running at a younger age, which prevents them from rising in the party and gives men an advantage. The choice between politics and family can be a difficult one.
"I always tell my daughters, 'I think we opened up a lot of opportunities for you. I don't think we've made your life less complicated,'" said Davidson, who before becoming RNC co-chair was Ohio's first female speaker of the House.
Across the world, women have gained political power. In Sweden women make up nearly half the parliament, and Germany just elected its first female chancellor, Angela Merkel.
In countries like Liberia and Chile, which were long dominated by violent male regimes, electing a woman is part of the backlash against the old ways, said Cornell University professor Anna Marie Smith, who specializes in government and gender.
Bachelet "represents the hopes of the people who were disempowered under Pinochet," Smith said. "I think Liberians are very tired of ... war. They are looking for a different kind of leadership."
Former Democratic congresswoman and presidential candidate Pat Schroeder of Colorado said she was often mystified by bias throughout her 24-year career on Capitol Hill. During her 1988 presidential bid, she said many people told her she didn't look "presidential."