Look for an increse -- but not a dramatic one -- in the number of women elected Nov. 4 to serve on Capitol Hill. Women, who now hold 16 seats in the House and 1 in the Senate, could add as many as 6 or 7 more seats, according to the most realistic estimates of seasoned observers.
Leaders of the major women's political organizations insist that the reason behind the modest expected gain is a combination of the traditional fund-raising problem faced by women candidates and this year's prevailing conservative political climate.
Credentials are not an issue. Many of the more than 50 women running for Washington office have exceptionally strong political experience at the state and local level and are on solid career tracks as politicians. But many are up against incumbents and outfinanced.
"The problem women still face is credibility in fund raising -- they just don't get as much money as male candidates get," says Rosalie Whalen, executive director of the National Women's Education Fund. "Being credible to voteers is entirely different from being credible to the establishment that gives money."
"We have a lot of candidates who, had they had more money, would be much more serious contenders," agrees Ranny Cooper, director of the Women's Campaign Fund which expects to give $150,000 to women candidates by the end of the year.
While those women running for Washington office are almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, those with the GOP label and funding advantage have an edge in most cases in the view of many political observers.
"Conservatives have been able to stir up their troops, but this is a year in which being a progressive or a moderate and also a woman is just not that acceptable," observes Marybel Batjer of the National women's Political Caucus.
Though many women candidates say they still face the problem of not being taken seriously as candidates, most say they are getting fewer personal questions on family responsibilities and less of a focus on women's issues.Experience, they say, makes the difference.
"I think any questions that occurred to people about ny qualifications . . . were answered to voter satisfaction when I ran for state office before," explains Republican Lynn Martin of Rockford, a former highschool teacher and Illinois state senator who is running for presidential candidate John B. Anderson's US House seat. "Voters in this district have a lot of common sense, and they don't care whether I'm pink, green, or blue. Trying to cover the mileage of this district -- and the stamina that requires -- is far more of a problem than my sex. . . ."
Of all those women running for House seats this year who are not incumbents Lynn Martin, a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and a fiscal conservative, is most often singled out as the one sure winner. Other stong possibilities include Rhode Island Republican Claudine Scheider, director of the Conservation Law Foundation, who lost by a slim margin to the Democratic incumbent two years ago; Bobbie Fiedler, a leader of the anti-busing movement in Los Angeles; and Margaret Roukema, the GOP candidate in a traditionally Republican New Jersey district.
Other women candidates in tight House races who could win include Democrat Norma Bork, a California speech pathologist running against GOP incumbent Don Clausen who beat her by a slim margin two years ago; veteran Pennsylvania legislator Jeanette Reibman, a Democrat facing a well-financed Republican incumbent in a traditionally Democratic district; New York Democrat Karen Burstein, who is running against a conservative opponent for an open seat in a traditionally Republican district on Long Island; and Lynn Cutler, an Iowa Democrat running for GOP Senate candidate Charles E. Grassley's seat.
The most likely woman candidate to join Kansas Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R) in the Senate is Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman who recently emerged the victor from a very tough primary fight in the race for Sen. Jacob K. Javit's seat.
Also ahead on the Senate side, according to the latest Denver Post Poll, is Colorado GOP candidate Mary Estill Buchanan who is running against incumbent Sen. Gary Hart (D). Rated as the state's top vote getter, she has twice been elected secretary of state. Yet her pro-ERA and abortion rights stand kept the Republican Party from putting her name on the primary ballot at the state convention, and she won the GOP nomination only by petitioning to get her name on the ballot and surviving a battle against three contenders.
One other possible Senate winner is Florida GOP candidate Paula Hawkins, a former public service commissioner, who will face Democrat Bill Gunter, the state's insurance commission. Mr. Gunter defeated incumbent Sen. Richard Stone in a runoff. Though Nevada Democratic Senate candidate Mary Gojack, a bank official, is running in a state that has twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans, her opponent is incumbent Sen. Paul Laxalt. As Ronald Reagan's campaign chairman, he is better known and has a strong 4-to-1 campaign funding advantage.
In one case two women are running for the same House seat. Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D), one of the 15 incumbents seeking re-election as representatives, is favored to win but faces a stiff challenge from Naomi Bradford, a member of the Denver school board who opposes the ERA and federal funding for abortions.
Many women candidates and the political groups which particularly support them concede that women in politics do have one advantage in a certain freshness and diligence in the view of many voters.