November 5, 2010

Young Women Win in 2010

Posted: 09:06 AM ET

Susannah Wellford Shakow is the President and Founder of the nonprofit organization Running Start. She is also the founder of the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee (WUFPAC) which supports young women of both parties running for office.  Here, she discusses the importance of young women running for political office.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Susannah Wellford Shakow.

It was the year of the woman (Round 2), then it was the year of the Republican woman, and now that the dust has cleared it looks like women will actually lose seats in Congress for the first time since 1979. But there is a glimmer of hope when we look at the youngest winning candidates.

In the under 40 set, only four young women won their Congressional races. But considering that only a handful ran, this is good news. I'm excited for the new young women entering Congress: Martha Roby from Alabama (34), Jaime Herrera from Washington state (32), Kristi Noem from South Dakota (38) and maybe even Ruth McClung (28!) who is still in a race too close to call in Arizona. And I am cheering the historic win of Nikki Haley (38) from South Carolina who is the first woman governor in a state that doesn’t often elect women. I'm disappointed, though, at the loss of one of the youngest women in Congress (Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (39) who ironically lost to Kristi Noem), and of the many inspiring young women candidates who lost their races Tuesday (Krystal Ball from Virginia (28), Heather Beaven from Florida (39), and Julie Lassa from Wisconsin (39) to name a few).

Why am I so interested in the young women candidates? Because I think they are the key to getting more women to run for office.

Young women don’t run. Ok, some clearly do, as you see above, but compared to men the numbers are paltry. It is common place for men to run young, their age hardly worth noting in the media unless they are also cute and single. For women, it is rare to run for Congress under the age of 40, and when women do they still face comments and press coverage related to their appearance and marital status, rather than the substance of their platform. In this election we saw attacks that went way too far. Look at Nikki Haley, with allegations that she slept with her campaign workers, or Krystal Ball who was pilloried over some harmless photos that ended up on Facebook. So maybe it is no wonder that young women so infrequently throw their hats into the political ring. But the result is that women run later in life than men, and this hurts women’s ability to rise to the highest levels of political power, since seniority still means political capitol in Congress.

These new young women entering Congress are our best hope to engage more women to run because they inspire the untapped women- the under 40 crowd.

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Filed under: LKL Web Exclusive • Women in Politics

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