State Races May Hold the Key to Political Power in 1998, Political Strategists Advise Women Candidates

This year may be a bonanza for women interested in running for office, according to leading political analysts, among them the co-chairs of The Women’s Campaign School at Yale – WCS.

George Dean, prominent political activist in the Republican Party, tells women, “Look to your own state for the key to power because those who win at the state level in 1998 will be the ‘king- and queen-makers’ for national office in 2000.”

Ann Sheffer, active member of the Democratic Party, adds, “It’s the members of state legislatures who will control redistricting for Congressional seats after the 2000 census, and ultimately the makeup of the U.S. Congress.”

This advice echoes recent statements made by Mike Collins, press secretary for the Republican National Committee, who said that state legislatures remain the training ground for national political talent. “Let’s face it – they’re our farm team,” he said. Kevin Mack, the Democratic Legislative Committee’s executive director, pointed out that “the key to state legislative races is campaign organization.”

Opportunities for Women Legislators

Currently, 1,607, or 21.6 per cent of the 7,424 state legislators in the United States are women. Women hold 368 – 18.5 percent – of the 1,984 state senate seats and 1,239 – 22.8 percent – of the 5,440 state house or assembly seats. According to the Center for the American Woman and Politics, this represents more than a five-fold increase in the number of women serving in state legislatures since 1969.

Moreover, this year 24 state legislatures have such slim margins of power that it would take only three seats to change party control.

“The special political dynamics of 1998 create a fantastic opportunity for women because when women run, women win,” WCS co-chair Dean says, referring to a study done several years ago for the National Women’s Political Caucus by pollster Celinda Lake.

Lake’s survey showed that on the state level, incumbent women won 95 percent of their races; women who ran for open seats won 52 percent of the time; and women who challenged male incumbents won 10 percent of the time. At the state senate level, women incumbents won 91 percent of their races; for open seats, women won 58 percent of the time; and, when challenging state senate male incumbents, women won 16 percent of the time. In Lake’s study, 64 percent of the women said that for them training is the key factor in deciding to run for office.

How to Train for a Political Campaign

WCS co-chair Sheffer emphasizes that any woman thinking of running for office this year should get that training right now. The Women’s Campaign School is currently accepting applications for its major yearly training session, which will be held from June 17 to 21.

Women interested in running for office or in managing or consulting for political campaigns can get registration information by calling 1/800/353-2878. Tuition is $750, and some scholarship funds are still available.

The school offers an intensive five-day program of lectures, seminars, role-playing workshops, mock campaigns and case studies, as well as the opportunity to meet and learn from women already involved in politics. The complete session covers such key topics as making the decision to run, polling and research, fundraising, ethics, message and slogan development, free and paid media, and field work. This year, there will be a strong focus on public speaking. All classes are held at Yale.

WCS is jointly sponsored by the Yale Law School and Women’s Studies program at Yale University. It is a non-profit corporation, offering a unique, non-partisan, non-issue based campaign training program, and includes the three Congresswomen from Connecticut, Rosa DeLauro, Nancy L. Johnson, and Barbara Kennelly, on its Board of Directors.

For further information, e-mail:; website:; telephone: 203/838-3415 or fax: 203/854-0614.

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