AlterNet, CA 08-07-06 Female Vets Put Military Mettle in House Races

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AlterNet, CA
08-07-06
Female Vets Put Military Mettle in House Races
By Allison Stevens, Women's eNews
Four female veterans running for Congress are challenging stereotypes about
women being weak on foreign policy.
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When Maryland Democrat Mishonda Baldwin is on the campaign trail, parents
often ask if they can introduce her to their daughters.
That's partly because she is such an anomaly, says Baldwin, a decorated
veteran of the first war in Iraq who has also served as an intelligence officer and
as a U.S. delegate to Egypt and Jordan for the American Council of Young
Political Leaders, a nonprofit organization that sponsors international exchange
programs.
"When you lay out my background and my experience and my young age, most
people are absolutely flabbergasted," she told Women's eNews. "Women in
particular are just absolutely thrilled; they're like, 'This is the best thing since
sliced bread!'"
Baldwin is one of only four women with military experience known to be running
for Congress in this year's midterm elections.
That small number also happens to be a record, says Gilda Morales, a
researcher at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University
in New Jersey. And it is one that she says will go a long way toward changing the
popular perception that women are less capable than men on foreign policy and
national security.
"These women have more face credibility," says Marie Wilson, president of the
White House Project, a group in New York dedicated to electing a female
president. "Whether men have been in war or not, people project that on to male
candidates because people have seen men primarily on the front lines in movies
or in history. Women are still having to prove their toughness." Sea Change in
Attitudes
But Wilson takes heart from a recent "sea change" in voter attitudes. She cites a
2005 poll commissioned by the White House Project that showed "a growing
belief" that men and women are equally suited to handle the complex issues of
foreign policy and national security. Fifty-four percent of those polled said a
female leader would be no different from a male leader in handling issues of
foreign policy and 55 percent said there would be no difference between a male
and female leader on issues of homeland security.
That is a "stunning" shift in voter attitudes, Wilson says. "Traditionally that's been
a real sticking point for women."
But Baldwin and her fellow female veteran congressional candidates -Democrats Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Republicans Heather Wilson of New
Mexico and Martha Rainville of Vermont -- are shielded from any lingering
stereotypes.
"I can talk about health care and I can talk about the FISA courts," Baldwin told
me, referring to the controversial federal court that handles requests from the FBI
for warrants to monitor suspected foreign agents within the United States. "We're
like this new untried commodity in the political sphere. What people are finding is
that we're tough, we're credible, but by the same token we haven't lost sight of
our progressiveness."
While there are only four known female veterans in the House races -- compared
to well over 100 male veterans running for election or reelection to the House -their impact is often expanded by media attention. Duckworth, for instance, was
little known when she threw her hat in the ring last year. But since then she has
become a central figure in the Democrats' bid to retake the House of
Representatives. That's due in great part to her compelling story about co-piloting
a Black Hawk helicopter that was struck down in November 2004 when a rocketpropelled grenade hit the cockpit and exploded.
Campaigns Affect Public Views
"We finally do have this core group of women who are running this year," says
Barb Palmer, a professor of political science at American University in
Washington, D.C., and co-author of "Breaking the Political Glass Ceiling," a book
about women in politics published earlier this year. "Regardless of whether they
succeed, they are contributing to the downfall of those perceptions."
The stereotype about women and war is one of two main hurdles still blocking a
woman's road to the White House, says Dianne Bystrom, professor of political
science at Iowa State University in Ames, who has a specialty in women and
politics. The other is the view that women with young children cannot handle
political office. Women, she says, face tougher scrutiny about the state of their
marriages and the number and age of their children than do men.
Bystrom sees the stereotype of women and war easing in 2006 and beyond,
thanks not only to female veteran candidates but also to female soldiers in Iraq
and Afghanistan and to the appointment of women to positions of authority on
international issues.
The most prominent of these are secretaries of state Madeline Albright, a
Democrat who served under President Clinton, and Condoleezza Rice, a
Republican serving under President Bush. Women in lower offices are also
combating stereotypes by serving in positions that identify them with foreign
policy. As women increase their numbers in the House and Senate, more are
gaining recognition for their service on committees that deal with veterans'
issues, military affairs and intelligence.
"As more women come into these offices, the likelihood is that people will not
think of them as anything less than men," said Morales.
Baldwin Trails in Fundraising
Baldwin is one of eight Democrats running in a crowded field in Maryland's Sept.
12 primary for the seat vacated by Rep. Ben Cardin, a Democrat running for the
Senate. Baldwin has raised $26,000, far less than many of her competitors. John
Sarbanes, another Democrat in the race who is the son of retiring Sen. Paul
Sarbanes, has raised nearly $790,000, according to the Federal Election
Commission.
Political oddsmakers give the three other female veterans better chances for
victory. GOP Rep. Heather Wilson, a former Air Force officer and currently the
only female veteran serving in Congress, has a slight edge in her race against
Democrat Patricia Madrid. Before winning her Albuquerque, N.M., House seat in
1998, she served on the National Security Council staff at the White House.
Two other women -- Duckworth, who lost both her legs in Iraq in 2004, and
Rainville, who in 1997 became the first woman to serve in the influential position
of state adjutant general of the National Guard -- are considered formidable
challengers in their open seat races.
Duckworth locked up her party's nomination in March and will face Republican
Pete Roskam in what is expected to be one of the most closely fought races this
fall. Rainville is favored to win her party's Sept. 12 primary; if she does, she will
be a formidable candidate in this Democratic-leaning district representing the
entire state of Vermont.
Another female veteran -- Democrat Karen Otter of California -- lost a primary
contest for a House seat in June. She served in Army units in Oklahoma and
Germany.
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