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2010 Midterms: Why All Women Candidates Matter

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In winning South Carolina's gubernatorial run-off this week, Republican Nikki Haley also advanced the narrative of 2010 as the next "Year of the Woman" in American politics.

Slogans aside, 2010 is certainly an important year for women. The visibility and success of women candidates across parties matters--for women candidates, for girls aspiring to be candidates, and for voters who need to see women succeed as candidates before they'll believe they can succeed in office. Our democracy is more vibrant when women's voices are heard.

We know the challenges women candidates face. My foundation's non-partisan research, Keys to the Governor's Office, shows that women candidates more than men need to prove their financial and crises management skills to persuade voters they are qualified and ready to lead. Voters wonder about women's ability to juggle their families and the needs of the public--they don't wonder about men. And, given the few examples of women chief executives, women candidates for governor must demonstrate successful executive experience to win voters' confidence.

2010 gives us a wealth of information for future research. As of Tuesday, five women candidates for Governor have won primaries in four states--California, Maine, New Mexico, and South Carolina. New Mexico's rare two-woman gubernatorial race will let us examine an election in which gender is essentially not a factor. And women are contenders for the Governor's office in 11 more primaries to be held before the midterm elections this November. Each of these races can give us greater insight into how voters respond to, evaluate, and vote for women candidates.

We learn from wins and losses, from Democrats and Republicans. But we can only learn if women run.

Barbara Lee is the Founder and President of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation in Cambridge, MA.