Massachusetts Primary Signals Women Gaining Clout

Women running for top political office have traditionally struggled in Massachusetts, notwithstanding the state's reputation as a liberal beacon.

But what critics describe as the state's "old boy networks" that long kept men in control of Massachusetts' political machinery have begun to crumble in recent years.

Tuesday's Democratic primary results make it possible - perhaps even probable - that women for the first time will hold more than half of the statewide elective offices next year following the November election.

"Momentum for women's leadership has really been growing in Massachusetts in a state that had historically been tough for women candidates," said Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily's List, a national organization that promotes Democratic women in politics.

Martha Coakley, Maura Healey and Deb Goldberg won their party primaries for governor, attorney general and treasurer, respectively. Each emerged victorious in competitive races against male candidates. With incumbent state auditor Suzanne Bump also on the ballot, four of the six Democratic candidates for constitutional office in November are women.

On the Republican side, two women ran unopposed in the primary on the statewide ballot: Karyn Polito for lieutenant governor and Patricia St. Aubin, who is running against Bump for auditor.

"It's breathtaking," said former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy, who broke the barrier by becoming the first woman elected to statewide office in 1986.

"We are getting comfortable in this state with seeing a lot of different faces, different styles, different backgrounds," Murphy added.

Democrat Elizabeth Warren's victory over Republican Scott Brown in the 2012 U.S. Senate race not only made Warren the first woman from Massachusetts to serve in the Senate, but energized many other women to consider higher office, Murphy said.

Less than a year later, U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark won a special election to fill the former U.S. House seat of Edward Markey after he was elected to the former Senate seat of Secretary of State John Kerry.

Murphy sees more to the trend than just female voters exercising their political power at the ballot box. Another factor is money - and the ability of candidates like Warren and Coakley to raise the large sums of cash needed to wage successful campaigns in Massachusetts.

She recalled how a group of women held a fundraiser for her in the 1986 primary that brought in $100,000 - a substantial amount at that time - enabling her to overcome financial obstacles and run TV ads that propelled her campaign.

Prior to Tuesday's voting, 16 different women had been nominated to statewide office since 1970 in Massachusetts - 10 Republicans and six Democrats, according to a list compiled by Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College.

Six were elected to statewide office at least once, including Republican Jane Swift, who became lieutenant governor in 1998 and later acting governor when Paul Cellucci left office early for an ambassadorial post in Canada.

Ubertaccio said a "strong traditional streak," in Massachusetts, stemming from among other things the strength of the Catholic church, likely contributed to a culture within both major political parties.

"That culture has been dominated by a network of men," he said.

Coakley, the state's first female attorney general, would be the state's first elected female governor if she wins the November election against Republican Charlie Baker and three independent candidates, all male. She has made issues such as abortion rights, domestic violence and equal pay for women major cornerstones of her campaign.

Baker, who also favors abortion rights, said he's also campaigning on issues that female voters care about.

"When I knock on doors in city neighborhoods and I talk to moms, the first thing they talk about is the quality of the schools in their communities," he said. "They worry about the state of the economy and their ability to keep a job or get one. They worry about safe streets and thriving neighborhoods and local government."


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