Female Pols Mount Record Number of 'Comeback' Bids

Imagine the evolution of the political animal as illustrated as in the famous evolutionary chart depicting the ape becoming a human in five easy steps. The male of the species is the image at the end of the chart, a full-blown realization of the politician, complete with lapel pin, starched collar and outstretched hand.

The female of the species, however, hasn't fully unfolded. Fairly new to politics, women are still learning how to win office.

Women first entered politics after the death, resignation or retirement of husbands or male relatives, a pattern that began to change in recent decades. Now, women routinely run on their own initiative, without first following a man into the office.

But unlike men, women still are reluctant to put themselves forward as candidates without first climbing the political ladder, often from the bottom rung. And they also tend not to throw their hats into the ring unless asked to by someone else.

Women also hesitate to run a second or third time after first experiencing defeat.

Running the same race twice may seem futile; if the same set of voters rejected a candidate, why would they change their minds in a subsequent election -- especially if the race is between the same two candidates?

Yet loss is often the first step on the road to victory -- an axiom learned long ago by male candidates. Just ask Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan -- both of whom ran failed presidential bids before winning the nation's top office years later. Indeed, repeat candidates often enjoy advantages over their rivals because they have higher name recognition, established fundraising networks and have learned from past mistakes.

As a group, women need to learn this lesson, said Donna Edwards, a Democrat who won a House seat in a special election in June after losing a race for the same seat two years ago.

"For so many women who run for political office and lose, you may never see that person again," she said, as I reported in Women's eNews. "That needs to change."

It appears women are getting the message. This year, 16 women are mounting "comeback bids," according to the Center for American Women in Politics, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

That is a record number for women, suggesting a major, if imperceptible, transformation is taking place among the female of the species -- one that may well help them catch up to men in political representation.

Allison Stevens is Washington Bureau Chief of Women's eNews.