Women in the World

11.06.12

Estrogen Fest: Key Women in the Race for Congress

With a record number of women—184—running for House and Senate seats this year, Capitol Hill got an injection of estrogen. Here's who to keep an eye on. Abigail Pesta reports.

Heading into this week's election, women held a wimpy 16.8 percent of seats in the U.S. Congress—a lower percentage than in the government of Iraq. But estrogen levels on Capitol Hill spiked this year, with a record number of female candidates competing for Congress, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

One hundred eighty-four women clocked in this year, with 18 women running for Senate seats and 166 vying for the House. Women faced off against women for the same seat in three Senate races and 11 House races. Here's who to watch:

SENATE RACES

Elizabeth Warren (D–MA) -- WON
The former Harvard University professor and Occupy Wall Street supporter scored a key victory over Republican incumbent Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts, triumphing despite a blizzard of criticism from her opponent—including accusations that she had no proof of the Native American ancestry she claimed. In winning the seat—which had once belonged to Ted Kennedy—she picked up a major Senate win for the Democrats, and became the fist female senator from Massachusetts.

Linda McMahon (R–CT) -- LOST
The former professional wrestling executive spent tens of millions of her own dollars in her second unsuccessful bid at a Senate seat in Connecticut. Presenting herself as a hard-working businesswoman who could relate to the middle class, she fared better with female voters than in her first shot at office in 2010, but nonetheless trailed throughout her race with Democrat Christopher Murphy. Some observers speculated that her pro-wrestling background worked against her, as the industry doesn't present women in the most respectful light. Her opponent prevailed, and will replace retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, an Independent.

Tammy Baldwin (D–WI) -- WON
Winning her Wisconsin Senate race against popular former governor Tommy Thompson makes Baldwin the first openly gay U.S. senator and Wisconsin's first female senator. She replaces retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl.

Heather Wilson (R–NM) -- LOST
She suffered a loss to Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich despite a hard-fought battle to nab the seat of retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat. Wilson, a former member of the House, is known for becoming the first female military veteran to win a full term in Congress.

Claire McCaskill (D-MO) -- WON
Her shot at holding her Senate seat in Missouri got a famous boost when Rep. Todd Akin said that in cases of “legitimate rape,” women’s bodies have “ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Amid the ensuing uproar, Republican leaders called on Akin to step down, but he held his ground and ran a close race in the increasingly conservative state.

Heidi Heitkamp (D–ND) -- WON
The former North Dakota attorney general beat out Republican Rep. Rick Berg in a close race for the seat of retiring Democrat Kent Conrad. She has been critical of the Obama administration on health care and energy policies.

Shelley Berkley (D–NEV) -- LOST
She tried to take the seat of Sen. Dean Heller in the battleground state of Nevada. Embroiled in ethics investigations as a member of the House, she cited affordable health care as a goal.

Linda Lingle (R–Hawaii) and Mazie Hirono (D–Hawaii) -- HIRONO WON
No matter who prevailed in this close race, Hawaii would be sending its first female U.S. senator to Capitol Hill. With her win, Hirono also became the first Asian/Pacific Islander American woman to be elected to the Senate. She replaces retiring Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka.

Cynthia Dill (D–ME) -- LOST
Seeking to replace outgoing Sen. Olympia Snowe, Dill described herself as a working mom who got her start in a local town council and rose to the state House and state Senate. Dill, however, found her party lining up behind popular former governor Angus King, who won the three-way race as an Independent.

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) -- WON
Democratic incumbent Feinstein prevailed in a woman-on-woman race with Republican Elizabeth Emken. Emken is anti-abortion-rights and sees marriage as between a man and a woman. Feinstein backs stem-cell research and has been a supporter of PIPA, the proposed act that would crack down on theft of intellectual property.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) -- WON
Often called “the next Hillary,” Gillibrand is known for helping to repeal “Don't Ask, Don’t Tell” and being a vocal supporter of women in office. She was appointed to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate when Clinton became secretary of state, and she has held onto her seat since. Her conservative opponent in this all-female square-off, Wendy Long, was seen as facing uphill battle.

Deb Fischer (R-NEB) -- WON
A rural rancher and state senator, her race against Democrat Bob Kerrey for the U.S. Senate was closely watched, as the two candidates battled to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.

HOUSE RACES

Michele Bachmann (R-MINN) -- WON
The former presidential candidate and skilled fundraiser faced a tough challenge from local businessman and former folk singer Jim Graves as she fought to hold on to her House seat in a redrawn district that was considerably less favorable to her.

Mia Love (R–UT) -- LOST
A black Mormon and daughter of Haitian immigrants, Love was up against Democratic incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson, and had aimed to become the first black female Republican to serve in the House.

Tammy Duckworth (D–IL) -- WON
The double-amputee and Iraq-war veteran beat out Republican incumbent Rep. Joe Walsh in her second run for the House, a high-profile win for the Democrats.

Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) -- LOST
Rebublican incumbent Mack duked it out with Democrat Raul Ruiz, a Harvard-educated physician who appealed to California’s Latinos in this heated House race.