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Maryland Faces Possible Lack of Female Lawmakers in Congress

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    Maryland has been among leading states in electing women to political offices for decades, but the state could have its first all-male congressional delegation in more than 40 years unless at least one of two Republicans or a third-party candidate wins in November in the heavily Democratic state.

    Republican Marjorie Holt became Maryland's first elected congresswoman, serving seven terms from 1973 to 1987. Democrat Gladys Spellman served three terms from 1975 to 1981. They were followed by Republicans Helen Bentley, who served five terms from 1985 to 1995, and Connie Morella, who served eight terms from 1987 to 2003.

    And Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat, is the longest-serving woman in the history of the U.S. Congress. She first served in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1977, before becoming the first woman to win a Senate seat on her own in 1986, without following a husband or father who had held the seat.

    But Mikulski's retirement next year after serving five, six-year terms could leave Maryland without a woman in the 10-member delegation. Her retirement prompted Maryland's only other female member of Congress, Rep. Donna Edwards, to run for the rarely open Senate seat in a Democratic primary against Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a race Edwards lost in April.

    State Sen. Cheryl Kagan, one of 12 women in the 47-member Maryland Senate, said while she would have liked to have supported a minority woman in that primary, she believed Van Hollen was clearly the stronger candidate. She also noted that voters had female candidates to choose from in the 8th Congressional District primary race, but she believes the best candidate in that race happened to be a man as well.

    "This time, the male candidates were stronger, were more experienced, were more respected and ran great campaigns, but Maryland should be looking around for talented women to move up," Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, said.

    Edwards, who is black, highlighted her race and gender during the campaign in a polarizing battle. The White House and prominent national Democrats supported Van Hollen, but Edwards' supporters said her opportunity to become only the second black female U.S. senator in history should not be denied.

    Republican Kathy Szeliga is running against Van Hollen, but she is running in a statewide race where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 in a presidential election year in which voter turnout is expected to be high. Szeliga, who is the Maryland House of Delegates minority whip, said she doesn't think people should vote for her simply because she's a woman, noting she's also a small business owner. But she said women's views are essential to good government.

    "I just don't think that Maryland should go back to the time when they didn't have women representing them," Szeliga said. "We have a proud tradition."

    The only other female running for a congressional seat for a major party is Republican Amie Hoeber, who is challenging Rep. John Delaney in Maryland's 6th Congressional District. Maryland has eight U.S. House seats.

    Maryland has never elected a female governor. However, the state Legislature has the nation's eighth-highest percentage of female lawmakers. Out of 188 total seats in Maryland's House and Senate, women hold 59 of them, or 31.4 percent.

    Nationally, although women comprise half the population, they serve as mayors of just 19 percent of all cities and represent just a quarter of all state lawmakers. Just 12 percent of governors are women, and they hold just one in five seats in Congress.