In Rebecca Traister’s fantastic book, Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women, she identified 2008 as a truly groundbreaking year. It was the year that a woman won a state presidential primary for the first time in the nation’s history, and saw only the second female vice-presidential candidate on a major party ticket.Four years later, in 2012, Congress saw
more women enter its chambers than at any other point in U.S. history, with 101 women in both bodies.
Four states, however, have lagged behind this national progress. Iowa, Mississippi, Delaware, and Vermont have yet to send a woman to Congress. Last week, I covered representation at the state level in Mississippi and Iowa, where no woman has been elected to Congress or held the governorship in either state.
This week’s article will spotlight Vermont and Delaware. Both have had a female governor, but no female representative.
The Green Mountain State has a mixed record of female representation. Vermont has yet to send a woman to Congress in any of their seats, and only a handful of women have represented major parties on the ticket for either House or Senate. However, they regularly outperform the rest of the nation in female representation in their state legislature. It currently ranks second in the country in the proportion of state legislative seats held by women -- over 40 percent.
Vermont is also one of two states in the country to use multi-member districts to elect their state representatives. Researchers have found that multi-member districts increase the prospects for female candidates to be elected and the capacity for women to work collaboratively to advance a women’s issues agenda.
Vermont’s executive office, however, has also has a positive record with female candidates. The state elected Madeleine Kunin to the governorship for the first time in 1984, and she served three terms in that position.Kunin eventually served as the number two official in the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton administration. She remains the only woman in the country to serve three terms as governor in any state.
Vermont tends to attribute their failure to send a woman to Congress as a result of its small congressional delegation where their incumbents have historically served long terms with little opportunity for turnover.
Neither of the state’s two senators, Patrick Leahy or Bernard Sanders, has shown any public intention of retiring anytime soon. Leahy is currently the longest serving member of the Senate. Neither candidate is up for re-election in 2014.
Peter Welch is the state’s representative in the U.S. House and he is running for re-election. Two candidates have expressed a willingness to run against him, Mark Donka for the Republican Party and Cris Ericson as an independent candidate.
Ericson has run many times in Vermont for office without much success. In 2008, she ran for Congress where she won only 2.6 percent of the vote. In 2010, she ran for the governorship and received only .75 percent of the vote. In 2012, she ran simultaneously for governor and senator, and received about 2 percent in each election. This year she is running for both the House seat and governorship again, but her chances of winning the seat remain low.
Despite the state’s success in electing women for state representative positions, it appears that its dearth in sending women to Congress will continue through 2014.
Delaware also boasts the distinction of having had a female governor. From 2001-2009, Ruth Ann Minner held the state’s highest executive position. However, similar to Vermont, they have yet to send a woman to Congress.
Since 1995, the state has had a positive record of gender equality at the state level. For the past 20 years, the state has had women serve in their house legislative bodies at a higher rate than the national average. Their highest representation peaked in 2005 when 33.9 percent of seats were held by female candidates.
Currently, however, this number has dropped to only 25.8 percent: 28.6 percent in the Senate and 24.4 percent in the House.Unlike Vermont, which has had few prospects for congressional representatives for women in the past decade, Delaware has seen a few female rising stars. In 2012, Sher Valenzuela challenged the state’s incumbent lieutenant governor, which garnered attention for the candidate at the national level. She remains interested in running for future seats, including at the congressional level.
Christine O’Donnell also ran a spirited 2010 campaign for Senate to replace Joe Biden as a tea party candidate. She has indicated that she is considering a run for Senate again this year against incumbent Chris Coons.
There are currently no listed challengers to the House incumbent, John Carney.
The likelihood of seeing a woman candidate from either Delaware or Vermont in Congress this year appears slim. Of the four states with no female representative in their history, Iowa appears the most poised to break the record of this dubious distinction.
While many pundits frequently see Iowa as a place for the national electoral spotlight only during presidential elections, this year perhaps warrants a break in the cycle. There might be a few extra sets of eyes focused on the state as the possibility of electing its first female to Congress continues over the next several months.
Photo Credit: VTDigger.org / Josh Larkin