12/12/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Women in Politics: New Hampshire Leads the Way

Women have made history in the 2008 election in the state of New Hampshire. It has the honor of being the first state in the nation to have a majority of women in the State Senate. Unlike the House with 400 members, the Senate only has 24 and 13 of them will be women when they are sworn in next January.

New Hampshire women not only have the numbers, they also occupy top leadership posts. Terie Norelli is Speaker of the House and Sylvia Larsen is President of the Senate. And New Hampshire will send its first female U.S. Senator, former Governor Jeanne Shaheen, to Washington.

Overall, the percentage of female state legislators notched up one point, from 23.7 % to 24.2%. Change has been equally slow in the Congress from 16% to 17%. At this rate, who knows how long it will take to achieve parity? Fifty years, if we're lucky.

The number one state in the percentage of women remains my home state of Vermont, with 37.8%. I have to applaud our neighbor, New Hampshire, which is right behind us, but not by much, at 37.7%.

There is great variation amongst the states. South Carolina retains the distinction of being at the bottom at 10%. That is a small improvement because they moved up from 8.8 %. Alabama is second from the bottom.

The South is not only tough territory for Democrats; it's a hard region of the country for women.

There is one southern state that distinguished itself in this 2008 election, and that is North Carolina by electing Kay Hagan to the U.S. Senate. If there was ever any doubt whether women are capable of running nasty campaigns, Senator Elizabeth Dole dispelled it all in her unseemly campaign against Hagan. She not only accused Hagan of associating with atheists, she used an actress, who sounded like Hagan, to say, "There is no God."

Women played a key role in this election in determining the outcome for the Presidency. I believe ninety-nine percent of the former Hillary supporters came on board to give Obama resounding support among women --achieving a gender gap of 7 percent. Obama's gender gap (56%) was larger in 2008 than Kerry's in 2004 (51%). McCain did worse with women voters, attracting only 43%, compared to Bush's support amongst women at 48% in 2004. Women vote in greater numbers than men, they vote for Democrats in greater numbers than men. Now it's time for women to get elected in equal numbers with men--and follow the New Hampshire lead.

This was originally posted at Chelsea Green.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.