Women's Roundtable

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin met with about two dozen women leaders on Friday during a roundtable discussion at the C. Burr Artz Public Library in Frederick. From left: Sharon Dobson, Maria Ryan McElhenny, Annette Breiling, Jan Gardner, Cardin, Karen Lewis Young, Myrna Whitworth and Elizabeth Chung.

Under a banner emblazoned with “Standing up for Maryland Women,” U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin met with about two dozen women leaders in Frederick on Friday.

Cardin, a Democrat, said he is looking ahead to a possible White House milestone — Hillary Clinton as the nation’s first female president.

In the same election, Maryland could end up with an all-male congressional delegation. U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who has been in Congress since 1977, is not seeking re-election.

Republican women have two chances in November to claim Maryland congressional seats — one in the Senate and one in the House. All nine Democratic candidates for House and Senate are men.

In an interview Friday, Cardin said he thinks Democratic candidates — including Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-8th, who is running for Mikulski’s seat, and Rep. John Delaney, D-6th — have represented voters well on women’s issues.

“As Senator Mikulski says, ‘It’s not about the gender. It’s about the agenda,’” Cardin said. “Each of the [candidates] have run very vigorous campaigns and ... we have seen that the people who have been victorious in these races have presented an agenda in which a large number of women — and which in many cases could be a majority — supported.”

Cardin talked for more than an hour with women leaders on Friday about issues ranging from Zika virus funding to the federal Violence Against Women Act.

Cardin heard from Frederick women who suggested that government should work toward equal pay for women, better opportunities for educational advancement, and greater representation in government and on the boards of nonprofits and private businesses.

“Those issues are going to be very much on the forefront in this election cycle,” he said. “All these issues, I think, will come out in this campaign. And I think we can make advancements.”

Cardin believes 2016 will be a pivotal year for women’s issues, with Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, pressing Republican Donald Trump on his stances on key women’s issues.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, Republicans Kathy Szeliga, running against Van Hollen for U.S. Senate, and Amie Hoeber, facing Delaney in the 6th District, are battling for spots in the Maryland delegation.

Women hold about 19 percent of seats in the U.S. Congress — with 20 senators and 84 representatives, according to the Center for American Women in Politics.

A March poll by CNN and ORC International found that 80 percent of respondents said America was ready for a woman as president and 12 percent believed it was “extremely important” that a woman is elected president in their lifetime.

In February, Goucher College asked voters about women in politics. At the time, voters in Maryland were still considering a batch of primary election candidates who could have led the state to either a record number of women in the congressional delegation. Or the 10-person delegation could end up having only men.

About 20 percent of respondents agreed that female politicians let their emotions influence their political decisions. Fourteen percent of respondents agreed that male politicians are typically better at handling most political issues, and the same percentage agreed that they have reservations about electing a female president.

Discussion of gender diversity in politics has sparked local campaigns to highlight their bona fides in their support of women’s issues.

Both Szeliga and Hoeber are endorsed by VIEW PAC, an organization that supports the election of Republican women.

Szeliga, Hoeber and Diana Waterman, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party, wrote a joint op-ed in The Washington Post about the presence of women in politics earlier this year.

“Maryland is on the verge of a very disappointing precipice. After the November elections, [the Maryland] congressional delegation could have no female members — for the first time since 1973 ...,” they wrote. “As Marylanders, we pride ourselves on our diversity and inclusiveness. For more than four decades, we have understood the value of having women among those representing our state in Congress. That’s why it’s noteworthy that the Democratic congressional ticket has a glaringly obvious hole — no women.”

The women wrote that they agreed with Rep. Donna Edwards, D-4th, who gave a fiery concession speech in April after losing her party’s U.S. Senate nomination to Van Hollen.

“What I want to know from my Democratic Party is … when will the voices of women ... when will our voices be effective, legitimate equal leaders in a big-tent party?” Edwards asked. She said during the campaign that her voice as a black single mother would contribute significantly to the Senate chamber.

Van Hollen and Delaney have dedicated portions of their websites to their positions on women’s issues.

“It’s a very exciting election,” Cardin said. “Of course, in the same year we’re asking the questions about the Maryland delegation, we have Hillary Clinton on the ballot, which is very exciting. I’m already reserving seats for my granddaughters to see her inauguration.”

Follow Danielle E. Gaines on Twitter: @danielleegaines.

Danielle E. Gaines covers politics and government in Frederick County, splitting her time between Winchester Hall and The State House. Having grown up in Illinois, she lived in New York and California before settling in Maryland.

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