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Women Seeking to Increase Showing in Senate

February 18, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It has the look of a classic political matchup:

On the Democratic side, a five-term U.S. representative whose liberal roots run deep in state and local politics.

On the Republican side, a top White House aide whose conservative credentials include a combative stint on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Both are candidates for the U.S. Senate in Maryland.

And both are women.

If Barbara Mikulski, Democrat, and Linda Chavez, Republican, win their respective primaries on Sept. 9 - and both are considered front-runners - it would mark the first U.S. Senate race in which voters choose between women.

The prospect is exciting to the women’s groups that have fought long and hard to put women in the nation’s top elective offices. Although 15 women have served as senators since 1922, it was not until 1978 that a woman - Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas - was elected in her own right without following a spouse into office.

Today, Mrs. Kassebaum and Sen. Paula Hawkins of Florida, both Republicans, are the only two women U.S. senators.

This year, 10 women are running for the 34 Senate seats at stake - still not a large number, but a better show than in years past.

″It’s going to take a while before we all wise up to the fact that there’s not just men on this little globe,″ said David Narsavage, communications director of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which recruits and helps candidates. ″We’ve got some years to go before we’re up to parity in terms of representation, male-female.″

Political observers believe that several of the 10 women seeking Senate seats can win in November. ″None of these are sacrificial lambs,″ said Rosalie Whelan, executive director of the National Women’s Education Fund.

Added Celinda Lake of the Women’s Campaign Fund, an independent bipartisan committee devoted to electing women:

″This is the most exclusive, most expensive club in the world. Senate seats in this country cost more than prime minister seats in a lot of Western European countries. It is a tough club to break into. Women have a very good shot this time.″

Of the 10, two are consistently mentioned as having excellent chances of victory: Ms. Mikulski and Democratic Lt. Gov. Harriett Woods of Missouri.

Ms. Mikulski and Miss Chavez are seeking the Senate seat being vacated by Republican incumbent Charles McC. Mathias.

Ms. Mikulski served as a city councilwoman in Baltimore for five years before challenging Mathias in an ill-fated 1974 race. She then served 10 years in the House.

″For women there are no shortcuts,″ she said in a recent interview.

″It’s far different than when I started out in 1977. When I knocked on my first couple thusand doors, being a woman was definitely a liability. I no longer find that,″ she said.

The GOP’s Narsavage said women have been reluctant to take on Senate races because they don’t want ″to put up with that kind of psychological harassment that a woman is subjected to when running for office. Anyone who runs for office is going to be subjected to intense public scrutiny, but the spotlight shines harshest on a woman when they run.″

Geraldine Ferraro chose not to run against New York Sen. Alfonse D’Amato this year, citing a Justice Department probe into financing of her first congressional bid in 1978. In 1984, as the first female vice presidential candidate from a major political party, Ms. Ferraro underwent a gantlet of negative publicity about her family finances.

In Maryland, if Ms. Mikulski wins the Democratic primary - and polls give her a 2-1 edge over Gov. Harry Hughes, who has not announced his candidacy, and Rep. Michael Barnes, who has - her likely general election opponent will be Miss Chavez, a former Democrat who recently resigned as the highest-ranking woman on the White House staff.

The two-woman showdown, if it comes about, would be a first. Ms. Lake said it would offer voters ″two women with distinct contrasts in ideological positions.″

Mrs. Woods is expected to make a second bid for the Senate, after losing in 1982 to incumbent Sen. John Danforth after her campaign ran out of money in the crucial closing weeks before the election. In 1984, she rebounded to win the lieutenant governor’s office, the only Democrat to win statewide office in a Republican sweep.

This year her competition for the seat being vacated by Democrat Thomas Eagleton probably will be former Gov. Christopher Bond. She said she will need $4 million to win.

″It’s a very sad commentary on our system but it’s the truth,″ she said of the money. ″I feel I’m able to raise money but one reason is I’ve been through it before. I’ll look anyone in the eye and say I want $1,000. I’m not timid.″

The Missouri and Maryland races are pivotal to the Democrats’ efforts to recapture control of the Senate, Ms. Lake said. The Democrats must pick up four seats to turn around the Republicans’ existing 53-47 advantage.

Mrs. Hawkins, up for re-election, is said to be the Republicans’ best chance of the 10 women. She has raised a formidable amount of money - $2.8 million so far - but she faces a strong challenge from Florida’s popular Democratic governor, Bob Graham.

Rep. Bobbi Fiedler was considered a front-runner in the crowded GOP primary in California to challenge Democrat Alan Cranston in November. But then Fiedler and a long-time aide were indicted on charges they offered to pay off a rival’s $100,000 campaign debt if he would withdraw. Despite an upcoming trial, she has vowed to continue her bid.

State Sen. Martha Ezzard of Colorado is in a three-way GOP primary, the winner to face Democratic Rep. Tim Wirth for the seat given up by Sen. Gary Hart. She is given even odds against millionaire Terry Considine, who is son- in-law of the state’s GOP chairman, and conservative Rep. Ken Kramer.

In Indiana, university professor Jill Long won the Democratic endorsement for the Senate, usually tantamount to the nomination, but faces an uphill battle against Sen. Dan Quayle.

In Illinois, state Rep. Judy Koehler recently got a lift when House Republican Leader Robert Michel endorsed her candidacy against steel executive George Ranney Jr. The winner of that contest will try to end Democrat Alan Dixon’s Senate career at one term.

Two women are running in a field of seven Democrats for the Senate nomination in North Carolina. However, wealthy Charlotte businesswoman Kathryn Harper and state education official Betty Wallace are given little chance; former Gov. Terry Sanford is leading the field.

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