It's a Year for Breaking Stereotypes of Women in Politics

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

SOME are calling it the Hillary Clinton syndrome in reverse. Just as Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton has encountered criticism of his wife's outspokenness and high-profile career in the course of his presidential campaign, some women running for office in 1992 have hit snags in their campaigns because of their spouses.

But while Governor Clinton represents a fairly new phenomenon of male politicians with independent working wives, married women politicians are likely to have working husbands. It appears unlikely that Hillary Clinton will be a deciding factor in whether her husband wins in November. But voters tend to be tougher on women candidates who have controversial spouses, political analysts say.

In Colorado, Democratic Senate hopeful Josie Heath, an ardent environmentalist, has been criticized for her husband's former employment at a firm that sells asbestos insulation.

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In southeastern Kentucky, Carol Brown Hubbard, who ran for a US House seat in the May primary and lost, fought criticism throughout her campaign for the large amounts of money her husband, Rep. Carroll Hubbard (D) of Kentucky, raised for her. (In an upset, Representative Hubbard also lost his House seat in the primary.)

In Pennsylvania, Lynn Yeakel, a Democrat challenging Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, faced charges of racism after it was revealed that her husband belongs to a country club with no black members.

"Spouse accusations matter much more to voters when they involve women candidates," says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. Voters consistently expect women to be more squeaky clean and honest than men in the political arena, so even minor criticisms tend to hurt them at the polls, Ms. Lake explains.

TWO 1992 political candidates - Geraldine Ferraro and Dianne Feinstein - have already been through allegations involving their husbands in previous campaigns. Still, the controversies may resurface this year, political observers say.

Ms. Ferraro, Walter Mondale's 1984 vice-presidential running mate, spent much of that campaign dealing with questions about the financial dealings of her husband, John Zaccaro, who was acquitted of real estate fraud in 1987.

"It was scrutinized so thoroughly in 1984 that it has not really been an issue" in her 1992 Senate run, says Ferraro's press secretary, Frank Wilkinson. "There's no meat left on the bone."

Former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who is running for the Senate seat vacated in California by Gov. Pete Wilson, was set back by conflict-of-interest charges due to her husband's career as an investment banker during her unsuccessful run for a House seat in 1990.

"It obviously did some damage to her campaign last time," says Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster. "In 1992 the issue will definitely come up again. But I don't think voters will be bothered by it."

Still, some analysts say progress, albeit slow, has been made in the overall portrayal of women candidates.

Wendy Sherman, who ran the campaign of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland in 1986, recalls political pundits mulling over which candidate (both were female) appeared more "senatorial," and reporters writing stories about the "cat fight" between the two women.

Now, the fact that Senator Mikulski has proved her credibility and the successes of well-known women like Texas Gov. Ann Richards and Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D) of Colorado "are all steps in the breaking down of stereotypes," Ms. Sherman says.

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