‘Year of the Woman’ successes dwindling

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Female outrage at the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee’s handling of the Clarence Thomas sexual harassment controversy helped propel three women to the Senate. But now Barbara Boxer, Carol Moseley-Braun and Patty Murray are struggling for second terms.
All three were elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, the Year of the Woman. All are liberal Democrats. And all are in the political fights of their lives. The so-called Year of the Woman has been replaced in 1998 by the Year of One Woman — Monica Lewinsky.
And yet, there’s no common thread to tie the three together. The impact of the scandal surrounding President Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky is imponderable. But there is no question that Democratic bread-and-butter issues such as health care, education and abortion rights have been overshadowed by the scandal.
“This campaign in many ways is a very surreal campaign. Nobody, or almost nobody, is focusing on the issues … so I’ve got to do it myself,” Boxer complained recently.
Boxer, Moseley-Braun and Murray all are vulnerable. This likely is due in part to the possibility the Democratic vote may be depressed because of the sex and coverup scandal. But it might be because of the upset nature of the women’s victories.
ù In the state of Washington, Murray, who campaigned as a “mom in tennis shoes,” has had lackluster job ratings since her election.
She faces a conservative Republican, Rep. Linda Smith, who has never lost an election and has a 35,000-strong volunteer army. The latest poll shows Murray leading narrowly, but a fifth of the vote remains undecided.
Like Boxer, Murray has been derided for her relative silence on Clinton’s affair with the former White House intern. “She put on a pair of Hush Puppies when she took off her tennis shoes,” Smith said.
ù In Illinois, Moseley-Braun, down 10 points in the latest polls, has been hammered with ethics problems ranging from allegations of misusing campaign funds, to criticism of a trip to Nigeria to visit the dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, who died this year. She was never convicted of any wrongdoing. On Sunday, the Chicago Tribune endorsed her Republican opponent, State Sen. Peter Fizgerald.
ù In California, Boxer is in a neck-and-neck race with Matt Fong, a Republican perhaps best known for his legendary mother, Democrat March Fong Eu, who was California’s top elections officer for two decades.
To win, Boxer, Murray and Moseley-Braun must galvanize their core supporters, the loyal Democrats and Republican women who helped put them over the top in 1992.
With 55 seats in the Senate, Republicans need just five more for a filibuster-proof majority, and Moseley-Braun, Murray and Boxer all are considered vulnerable.
Boxer, who is related by marriage to Clinton, was slow to criticize Clinton over the Lewinsky matter, finally speaking out after the president acknowledged the affair in a nationally televised address in August.
Even then, her comments paled in comparison with that of fellow Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who said her faith in Clinton was “shattered” by his admission.
Like Boxer, Feinstein was elected to the Senate in the fabled Year of the Woman, though she is not up for re-election this year. She was running to fill the unexpired term of a Republican appointee, then ran again two years later for a full six-year term.
Patricia Kellenberger, a bank teller in Sacramento, said she voted for Boxer and Clinton in 1992, but has since re-registered as a Republican.
“Women voted for him because he was good looking and smart, and he had this Kennedy image. But now I think they feel betrayed by him,” she said recently. “And it spills over on Boxer, too, because she hasn’t spoken out.”