Women Seeking Office Quickened by Thomas Flap UNITED STATES POLITICS

By Scott Armstrong, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 22, 1991 | Go to article overview

Women Seeking Office Quickened by Thomas Flap UNITED STATES POLITICS


Scott Armstrong, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


IN California, the pledges of time and money coming into the offices of US Senate hopeful Dianne Feinstein are up 25 percent over two weeks ago.

In Washington, D.C., the Women's Campaign Fund is receiving $250 checks with notes attached: "This is for Clarence."

In Illinois, several women are eyeing the seat of Sen. Alan Dixon (D) in 1992 in the wake of his confirmation vote for Clarence Thomas.

The image of male senators in Windsor-knotted ties probing the gender-sensitive issue of sexual harassment has galvanized women activists across the country who vow to turn vitriol into votes.

Coming at a time when the public is already upset over incumbent politicians and redistricting has created a large number of open seats, activists predict a "banner" year for women at the ballot box in 1992.

A weekend poll by the National Law Journal found that state and federal judges believed Prof. Anita Hill's charges of sexual harassment 2 to 1 over Judge Thomas's denial.

But most surveys of the public favored Thomas, and observers caution that some of the enduring obstacles women face in seeking office - being taken seriously, raising money - remain.

"While the issue of sexual harassment has been raised, it is not a clear path of gain for feminists and political defeat for others," says veteran California Pollster Mervin Field.

The biggest boost for women candidates next year may come from the calendar. The decennial process of reapportionment will create 19 new open seats, and incumbents are likely not to run in several dozen others as a result of the usual turnover that occurs after districts are redrawn. The same reshuffling will take place at the state legislative level.

"The biggest obstacle to women candidates remains incumbency, so redistricting offers a great opportunity," says Pat Reilly of the National Women's Political Caucus.

Activists are also banking on an electorate that is becoming increasingly angry over the conduct of elected officials. The hope is voters will be looking for fresh faces, a climate women candidates usually do well in.

"What makes 1992 look potentially very good is that the electorate is so volatile," says Jane Danowitz, executive director of the Women's Campaign Fund.

The impact of the Senate confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court is less clear cut. Many women's groups, who opposed the conservative jurist from the start because of their concern that he would bring the court closer to overturning the ruling that legalized abortion, have vowed to unseat Senate Democrats who joined Republicans to vote for Thomas.

Feminist rancor may prove effective in some races, but in others, particularly conservative Southern states, the resonance will be different. Many of the national polls conducted before the confirmation vote showed both men and women strongly supporting the nominee.

"They may have a delicate time picking targets for retaliation," says Mr. Field. "Are they going to go after Southern Democratic senators and allow, perhaps, Republicans or other Democrats get elected who may be more conservative? …

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Women Seeking Office Quickened by Thomas Flap UNITED STATES POLITICS
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