Recently confirmed U.S. Attorney Janet Napolitano gets the biggest round of applause when dignitaries are introduced, but all eyes are on Cindy Resnick and Cathy Eden. The occasion, this December evening, is an opportunity to hear EMILY's List founder Ellen Malcolm speak.

Both Resnick and Eden, Democratic state legislators, are seriously considering running for the U.S. Senate seat Dennis DeConcini will vacate in January 1995. Eden stands immediately to Malcolm's left, her face cast downward, somber as she listens. Across the room, Resnick perches on a sofa arm, equally intent. Neither catches the eye of Claire Sargent, who has a prime viewing spot. Sargent, who failed to win an EMILY's List endorsement last year during her bid to unseat U.S. Senator John McCain, is also listening carefully--head high, arms folded across her chest.

The evening's guest list reads like a who's who of Arizona Democratic women. They crush into the living room of a sprawling, central Phoenix home, spilling into the bar area and kitchen, sipping wine and sparkling water.

Malcolm always draws a crowd--and support for EMILY's List (EMILY is an acronym for the unwieldy but unassailable political maxim Early Money Is Like Yeast--it rises). Her organization bundles individual donations from contributors nationwide and distributes the money to a select group of pro-choice, Democratic, women candidates.

The fact that Karan English won a $100,000 endorsement from EMILY's List in 1992 makes Malcolm and her list golden in the eyes of those assembled. She'll leave the soiree with $12,000 in checks--and the 1994 races have barely begun.

If she's aware of the tension in the room, Malcolm doesn't let on. In the wake of 1992's victories--resulting in part from the galvanizing effect of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings--there are more women candidates than ever. Arizona is one of four states in which more than one woman is considering a Senate race, Malcolm says. "Sometimes," she says with a bright smile, "it's an embarrassment of riches."

It is highly unlikely that EMILY's List will contribute to both women in a race, if it endorses a candidate at all. Resnick knows that. Eden knows that. Malcolm knows that. And each of the three knows just what that means. Karan English made the list and won a seat in Congress. Claire Sargent didn't accomplish either.

@body:From 1933 to 37, a woman named Isabella Selmes Greenway represented Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was 55 years before Karan English broke the so-called "glass ceiling"--that transparent but firm obstacle that has long stalled American women in politics--by winning the right to represent the newly created Sixth Congressional District.

The region above the ceiling has traditionally been the province of congressmen, governors and, of course, presidents.

In Arizona, some say, the ceiling is concrete. Indeed, from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to Clinton special assistant for intergovernmental affairs Loretta Avent, the Arizona women who have entered the national political arena have almost always done so through appointments, not at the polls.

Arizona women have had a particularly difficult time getting elected to statewide or national-profile positions--especially when one considers the fact that women have become commonplace in offices that might be considered staircases that transcend the ceiling.

Nationally, Arizona has the second-highest percentage of women serving in a state legislature. Women have served on the Corporation Commission, as county supervisors and in all of the traditional "female" offices: clerk of the court, county recorder, superintendent of education.

Carolyn Warner, former superintendent of education, was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1986. Evan Mecham won that race.

When it came to getting a woman in at the top--as governor--Arizona had to wait for Mecham to be impeached. That allowed Rose Mofford to ascend to the Ninth Floor in 1988 through her position as secretary of state. After serving out Mecham's term, Mofford was politely shown the door by Democratic leaders, who opened one for Terry Goddard.

Queried today about her role as the state's first woman governor, Mofford acts as though her gender never occurred to her.

Undaunted, women from both sides of the aisle are talking about running for offices at the highest levels of government. Resnick and Eden may go for the U.S. Senate. There is a possibility that three women--former Scottsdale City Councilwoman Susan Bitter Smith, state Senator Bev Hermon, and attorney Linda Rawles--will vie for the Republican nomination in the First Congressional District.

Arizona State University administrator Ramona Ortega Liston, a Republican, has said she will challenge English.

And former Reagan Federal Aviation Administration official Barbara McConnell Barrett says she has received hundreds of calls, faxes and letters encouraging her to run in the wake of reports that she is considering challenging Governor Fife Symington next November. "I am now very seriously looking at the prospect," she says.

Despite such optimistic stargazing, the reality is that even with vital endorsements from national women's fund-raising organizations such as EMILY's List--or its pro-life counterpart, WISH List--the women who run in 1994 face an uphill battle. And that's if they choose to run. Some will end up like GOP state Representative Susan Gerard, who decided last month that she won't make a go for the Fourth Congressional District, even though observers say she had a good chance at nabbing the seat being vacated by U.S. Senate hopeful Jon Kyl.

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