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Republican women gain in Congress, but women overall may lose ground

At least eight Republican women are newly elected to the House, and one to the Senate. Four GOP women won their governor's races. But the overall picture for women in Congress is less rosy.

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Republican women could have done even better than they did, if more of the record number of female GOP candidates had won their primaries.

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“With a powerful Republican tide, more women could have been swept in, had there been more candidates,” notes Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

One Democratic woman, Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, lost her reelection bid. If Illinois state Attorney General Lisa Madigan had agreed to run for the Senate, she would have had an excellent shot at retaining President Obama’s old seat. Republican Rep. Mark Kirk won the seat. Assuming Murkowski wins, if Attorney General Madigan had won the seat in Illinois, women would have held a record 18 Senate seats in 2011.

In the House, nine incumbent Democratic women lost their seats, and no incumbent Republican women lost. At least 12 new women – four Democrats and eight Republicans – won election to the House.

Of the four races involving women that remain undecided, two women are currently ahead, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona and Anne Marie Buerkle (R) of New York, and two are behind, Rep. Melissa Bean (D) of Illinois and Ruth McClung (R) of Arizona.

Numbers for state legislatures are still coming in. But CAWP already sees a “significant drop” in the number of women state legislators, because a lot of Democratic women lost and many were replaced by Republican men. That will hurt the future of women in politics, especially Democratic women, as state legislatures are a training ground for higher office.

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