Women marked time in Election '86 in their quest for more national and statewide offices. But in terms of credibility, women candidates made giant strides, according to the National Women's Political Caucus in Washington. Although disappointed that more women office seekers did not win - particularly those in closely fought gubernatorial races in Alaska, Oregon, and Arizona - caucus spokeswoman Jeannine Greiner says, ``It's still been a year of progress.'' She notes:
The field of women candidates this year was the largest and the strongest ever.
When women candidates lost, they did not lose on the basis of gender.
Women lost by very small margins in several races.
``These women were seasoned politicos, with an average 10 years of public service each,'' Ms. Greiner says. ``They were not sacrificial lambs.''
This year is a sharp contrast with 1984, when vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro (D) almost single-handedly carried the banner for women.
``At the same time she was campaigning, we had a number of women moving through the political pipeline who were ready to emerge in 1986,'' Greiner says. The credentials of many women candidates were so strong this year that they ``gained viability'' with voters even though they didn't win many new seats, she adds.
A record number of women this year sought state offices such as lieutenant governor, state secretary, and treasurer, and they won in record numbers. Eleven ran for lieutenant governor and four won; 26 ran for secretary of state and 10 won.
There will be one more woman governor in 1987, when Republican Kay Orr takes over the chief executive's office in Nebraska. She joins Gov. Madeleine M. Kunin (D) of Vermont, who failed to gain a majority of the vote but is expected to be reaffirmed by the state legislature, and Gov. Martha Layne Collins (D) of Kentucky, who was not up for reelection this year.
The greatest opportunities came in the gubernatorial races, with eight women running (two against each other in Nebraska). The margin of defeat was less than 6 percent in three of the races.
The number of women United States senators holds steady at two, although the lineup has changed. Incumbent Sen. Paula Hawkins (R) of Florida is out, but Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland is in (joining Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R) of Kansas, who was not up for reelection). Four other women lost bids for Senate seats.
Also, the number of women representatives in the 100th Congress will be the same as in the 99th - 23. There will be four new faces, however, in place of four incumbents who either retired or ran for higher office. The newcomers are from Hawaii, Maryland, New York, and South Carolina.
The so-called gender gap reemerged this year, with women leaning toward Democratic candidates. ``Women voters had something to do with the Senate being returned to the Democrats,'' Greiner says. In many key Senate races, including those in North Carolina, Colorado, and South Dakota, enough women voters preferred the Democrat to tip the balance, helping the Democrats the take control of the Senate.
``The women's vote is issue-oriented,'' says Ann Lewis, national director of Americans for Democratic Action in Washington. ``It would be a mistake to believe women vote for the party.'' Women voters tend to put greater emphasis on social and human investment, education, and health, she says.
``I'm not saying women don't vote for Republican candidates, but there is a gender gap on the issues,'' Ms. Lewis says. ``The Democratic candidates spoke to the issues they care about.''
Although women voters tilt slightly to the Democrats, the party does not outshine the GOP in putting forward women candidates, Greiner notes. This year there were more Republican women running for Congress or governor than there were Democratic women.