Women in Politics

WITH strong victories in the Pennsylvania primaries Tuesday, President Bush and Bill Clinton virtually clinched the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations. But for the second time in six weeks, the White House contenders have had to share the headlines with a woman candidate who won an upset victory in a primary bid for the US Senate.

Lynn H. Yeakel surged out of political obscurity to seize the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat held by Republican incumbent Arlen Specter. Ms. Yeakel, who defeated the state's lieutenant governor, says she was galvanized into political activism by watching Senator Specter's relentless questioning of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings last fall.

Women's anger at the treatment of Professor Hill by the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee also lay in large part behind Carol Moseley Braun's stunning win over incumbent Sen. Alan Dixon in the Democratic Senate primary in Illinois March 17.

This is being heralded as the year for women in American politics. In California former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein and US. Rep. Barbara Boxer are seeking the Democratic nominations for different Senate seats, while in New York former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and New York City Controller Elizabeth Holtzman are vying to challenge GOP Sen. Alfonse D'Amato. Altogether, at least 140 women are running for US House seats and 17 women for Senate seats; hundreds more are seeking sta te and local offices.

Opportunities for women candidates have been widened this year by, in addition to the fallout from the Hill-Thomas confrontation, heightened national concern over such "women's issues" as health and child care, family leave, and education; concern that women's constitutional right to choose abortion is jeopardized; a proliferation of open congressional seats owing to redistricting and retirements; and a new sophistication among women about political fund-raising and campaign techniques.

Certainly women are badly underrepresented in the corridors of power, and we hope that this year will in fact mark the beginning of a new political emergence for women. Female voices need to be heard more clearly on specific issues of growing importance not only to women, but to society as a whole. Women may bring to public life a home-bred aptitude for stewardship of the nation's fiscal and human resources. Beyond their contributions on specific issues, more women officeholders may also enrich the polit ical culture with a broader range of sensibilities and ways of conducting the people's business.

Women shouldn't be elected to high office just because they're women; but the day is long gone when talented women should be excluded from office for that same reason.

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