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Women in Congress Expected to Suffer Net Loss of Seats

4 years ago
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Ever since Jeannette Rankin was elected as the first woman to serve in Congress in 1917, members of the fairer sex have proven able representatives of the people's choice. Despite the fact that a record number of women candidates ran for congressional office in the 2010 midterm elections, however (with a total of 152 female candidates winning their primaries), the total number of women answering Senate and House roll calls after Jan. 3 will drop from its historic high of 90 down to 87 (not including 3 female non-voting delegates), according to projections by Women's Policy, Inc., a nonpartisan organization focused on social, economic and legislative issues of importance to women. The decline will also break a three-decade run of ever increasing representation by women in the two chambers.
In the 111th Congress there were 17 lady senators (13 Democrats and 4 Republicans). Two incumbents, Democrat Patty Murray in Washington state and Alaska's Republican Lisa Murkowski, ran campaigns so close they still don't know for certain if they will retain their seats, but, if both prevail, the total number in the upper chamber will remain constant (with the bi-partisan balance tipping slightly toward the GOP after the defeat of Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln and victory of New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte).
Prior to Tuesday's election there also were 56 Democratic women in the House of Representatives and 17 Republicans for a total of 73. For the upcoming 112th Congress, the exact number of women's places in the House is still not certain -- in 4 contests involving women candidates, significant absentee ballots remain uncounted or a margin is small enough to trigger a recount -- but the number of GOP congresswomen projected to win seats rises to 23, while the headcount of Democratic congresswomen is expected to drop to 47. (The contested races are between Ruth McClung and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.); Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and Jesse Kelly; Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) and Joe Walsh; and Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.) and Ann Marie Buerkle.)
Perhaps a bigger defeat to women in political leadership roles will be the loss, along with her party's majority, of the House Speaker's gavel by Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to ever become second in line for the presidency.

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