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Women Candidates For State Legislature Fight To Increase Representation

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WASHINGTON -- While women are on track to increase their representation in Congress, their prospects are less certain in state legislatures.

A record 1,078 women have won their primaries for state legislative seats in the 2012 cycle so far, according to a new analysis by the 2012 Project, a nonpartisan undertaking of Rutgers' Center for American Women and Politics. Those results, however, are for just 23 states and represent fewer than half of the state legislative seats up for election. A total of 44 states have 6,012 state legislative seats up for grabs in the 2012 cycle.

"We could still increase the numbers serving, up from today's 23.7 percent," said Mary Hughes, director of the 2012 Project, on women in state legislatures. "I see widely varying possibilities among the states. California is down 10 women nominees from 2010. In states with early focused efforts to recruit women, such as Illinois, there appear to be good results for women candidates. Illinois has a record-breaking 75 women candidates, up 9 versus 2010."

The 2006 elections saw a record number of women elected to state legislatures. Then, there were 1,009 nominees in these same 23 states. In 2010, the year that saw the most women nominees overall, there were 1,039 women at this point in the election season in those states.

State legislative primaries end on Sept. 13, with New York.

A major reason for the unpredictability in state legislative races this year is the new seats created as a result of redistricting.

According to the 2012 Project, which encourages women to run for elected office, some longtime women incumbents were forced out of office by redistricting. Conditions were made more favorable for female candidates in other districts.

Additionally, since 1994, 15 states have been phasing in term limits for state legislatures. This year, for the first time, all 15 of those states will be affected. A total of 255 incumbents -- including 62 women -- will be retiring, creating a batch of open seats.

The 2012 Project leaders said they are more optimistic about women's representation in the House. The 2012 elections could see a record number of women as general election candidates.

"Research shows that women leaders introduce more bills, bring more resources home to their districts and advocate for new issues on the legislative agenda," said Hughes in June, commenting on the women running for the House.

There are also a record number of Democratic women running for Senate seats in the 2012 elections.

Fewer women are candidates for governor. While four Republican women are governors, just two Democratic women hold that office -- and both are resigning. This year, New Hampshire is the only state where Democratic women are running for governor; Jackie Cilley and Maggie Hassan are competing in the primary, along with Bill Kennedy, to win their party's nomination.

Part of the impediment to getting more women into office remains convincing them to run.

Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, has found that 60 percent of men believe they're fit to run for public office, compared with fewer than 40 percent of women who have the same qualifications. Women are also significantly more likely to let these doubts prevent them from running, and they are still more likely than men to have family obligations.

The 2012 Project will host summits on electing women before the November elections -- one on Aug. 21 one in Las Vegas and second on Sept. 13 in Atlanta.

Women currently hold 428 (265 Democrats, 151 Republicans, 11 nonpartisan and 1 independent) of the 1,971 state Senate seats, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. They hold 1,321 (791 Democrats, 524 Republicans, 4 Progressives, 2 independents) of the 5,411 state House seats.

View the 2012 Project's Women's Election Tracker here.

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