Women Poised to Grab Historic Stake in Washington

The 1992 election was dubbed the year of the woman, because the number of female politicians in Congress jumped by 19. But in Tuesday's election women candidates may rival those numbers and spur the biggest incoming female class to Capitol Hill in history.

Among the female politicians vying for a spot is Philadelphia Democrat Lois Murphy, a mother of two who ran against Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach two years ago and lost by just 6,400 votes.

But she believes this year will be different. Her district in Philadelphia's Main Line suburbs could be part of what some analysts call a perfect storm for female candidates as polls indicitate frustration with the war in Iraq.

Murphy said that 139 women on the ballot across the country shows that "voters are interested in a change of perspective."

"They don't even have to open their mouths -- they're not a white guy in a blue pinstripe suit," said Debbie Walsh of the Center for American Women and Politics. "Women are seen as more honest as candidates and not part of the Washington old boy network, so they are viewed as more trustworthy when the climate is such as it is this year."

First Female Speaker of the House?

Of the 56 women challenging male incumbents, most are Democrats who could be the key as the party vies for the 15 seats it needs to take control of the House.

And among the competitive races in the country, there are 18 in which a Democratic woman is poised to win.

"We've broken all the political barriers, the last major hurdle was financial, and women candidates are now able to raise as much money as their male counterparts," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.

With 67 women currently in the House and 14 in the Senate, activist groups like Emily's List are working to recruit women who support abortion rights to run for office and change women's role in politics.

"Seeing women be smart and tough and effective is going to help all of us, and I think really sets the stage if we have a woman running for president in the near future," said Ellen Malcolm of Emily's List.

And if the Democrats prevail, even more immediate is a first woman speaker of the House -- Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will likely take the seat.

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