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US midterms Thursday, 29 October, 1998, 09:32 GMT
Democrat women running to stand still
Two Democratic senators are battling for their seats in this crucial election.
In 1998 Democratic women are battling for their political life
Just one week before the election, Senator Carol Mosley-Braun, an Illinois Democrat, is trailing her challenger Peter Fitzgerald by 10 points. The race between California Democrat Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Matt Fong is too close to call.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Both women - along with their colleague Democrat Patti Smith of Washington - rode to victory in 1992 with the help of a feminist-friendly Bill Clinton. Pundits called it a political watershed. Journalists dubbed it the "Year of the Woman".

Illinois' Carol Mosley-Braun has fought to overcome personal negatives in her Senate race.
Illinois' Carol Mosley-Braun
Yet six years later, in their first race for re-election, both Sen Mosley-Braun and Sen Boxer are facing tough battles to stay in office.

Why are these women struggling in 1998?

The elections of 1998 and 1992 are different for two reasons.

First, 1992 came on the heels of hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas's appointment to the Supreme Court. Anita Hill, who had worked with Judge Thomas in the 1980s, accused him of sexual harassment.

Republicans grilled Ms Hill during televised hearings, accusing her of collusion with liberal groups.

"Most pundits suggested that anger sparked by the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings helped women mobilise to appeal to women voters," said Mary Hawkesworth, director of the Center for the American Woman and Politics at Rutgers University.

Second, the 1992 elections saw an unusually high number of open seats, and women are just as likely as men to be elected in an open race, Ms Hawkesworth says. Incumbents win 90 percent of the time.

But even for incumbents, the first re-election bid is usually the toughest, said Nick Demeter, political director for the National Women's Political Caucus, a non-partisan group that works to elect pro-choice women. In 1998 more than overarching national trends, local issues are driving the races.

"All politics is local," Mary Hawkesworth said, quoting former speaker of the US House of Representatives Thomas "Tip" O'Neill.

"We were concerned that the [women's] vote would be depressed after the Clinton escapade, that the president's conduct would detract from issues women espouse," Mr Demeter said.

The caucus was especially concerned that Democratic women wouldn't vote due to the scandal, and low voter turnout usually benefits Republicans over Democrats, Mr Demeter added. Both Mosley-Braun and Boxer are Democrats.

California's Barbara Boxer is running neck-and-neck with challenger Matt Fong.
California's Barbara Boxer
But the opposite seems to have happened. "[Women are] sick of hearing about the Clinton investigation," Mr Demeter said, and voters are pushing candidates to focus on local issues.

It's a focus that has worked against Sen Mosley-Braun. In recent campaign appearances, Sen Mosley-Braun's opponent, Peter Fitzgerald, has blasted her for spending more time in Nigeria visiting Sani Abacha, the country's late dictator, than in her home state of Illinois.

She has tried to highlight her voting record during the campaign, but her Nigerian trips and ethical questions surrounding her first campaign have diverted voters' attention, Ms Hawkesworth said.

"Mosley-Braun didn't do the work to expand her base. She was a very surprise success in 1992, and she needed to do more constituency work," she added.

In California, the race has focused on abortion, handgun control and other "wedge issues" that distinguish Barbara Boxer from Matt Fong.

California races are watched closely because of the size and the political importance of the state. And in an election where the political balance in Congress is viewed as a referendum on impeachment, these races are key.

Links to more US midterms stories are at the foot of the page.

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