PIERCING THE CLASS CEILING

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@body:State Representative Susan Gerard is ambitious. "Don't think I'm not looking at running for governor someday," she says, leveling her gaze across the desk of her office at the legislature. She's convincing. So's her reputation as a no-nonsense moderate Republican who entered politics in 1986 because she was sick of listening to the "idiots" in the legislature. Until recently, it was a foregone conclusion that Gerard would announce her candidacy for the Fourth Congressional District, the seat Kyl is vacating, in January. In late November, she changed her mind. Gerard says she wants to take advantage of her seniority in the House. If reelected, she'll be a fourth-termer and possibly in line for a leadership position. More important, though, Gerard started to think about the next legislative session, and the measures she could or couldn't sponsor--depending upon the whims of supporters for her congressional race. "I said, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe I'm starting to think that way,'" she says.

Family came into play. Gerard's children are in their teens, but she was wary of turning her household upside down. As for her husband? He was supportive, she says, but admitted his relief when she told him she'd decided against it.

The bottom line, she says, is fund raising. Consultants told her to plan to spend four hours a day on the phone--from now through the election. Gerard laughs. In the past, she has run her races from her kitchen table. "You can run legislative races and city council races with bake sales," she says. A run for Congress costs hundreds of thousands of dollars--that's a lot of Rice Krispies treats. @rule:

@body:Ellen Malcolm has concluded her presentation, and she is asked if there is a common thread among candidates anointed by EMILY's List.

EMILY's List candidates are "extremely committed to their communities," real "can-do women," Malcolm says.

As if on cue, Claire Sargent leans over. "Sounds like a profile of me," she says in a stage whisper laced with white wine. Malcolm finishes and starts to work her way through the crowd. She brushes past Sargent, careful to avert her gaze.

What Malcolm didn't mention is that her candidates must undergo what English describes as a "grueling" interview process--both written and in person--and be able to demonstrate that they can raise money on their own. Sargent's candidacy was fraught with problems. She rode the wave of the "Year of the Woman" to victory over Truman Spangrud in the Democratic primary, but from there, things fizzled. She didn't win important endorsements--or dollars--from EMILY's List or from other national women's organizations. Her refusal to sign a pledge of support for Senator Dennis DeConcini likely cost her thousands of dollars.

Then, of course, there's the candidate herself. Sargent drew ire for her liberal views, political naivet‚ and emphasis on the "big picture." Even a year after Senator John McCain buried her at the polls, she still says, "I'm not a technician." She apparently fails to realize that her admitted disdain for economics and "details" reinforces the stereotype of the ill-informed woman.

Even with her troubles, an EMILY's List endorsement would have made a huge difference to Sargent's campaign--lending credibility, opening wallets and buying the candidate precious airtime. But not ensuring victory.

Ellen Malcolm knew Sargent didn't have a chance.
Few people--including men--are suited to high office. That has been a bitter lesson for feminists, who for years have worked to pack elected offices with women--any women. Now that philosophy is changing as women realize the value of picking one's horses.

No one asked Claire Sargent to run for the Senate. "Noooo. Nobody approached me. Are you kiiiiiddin'?" she says with a throaty laugh, her drawl the remnant of a Southern upbringing. She just wanted to give McCain a run for it, and she didn't much care for Truman Spangrud.

Sargent is no dummy. She is well-read, judging by the piles of New York Times clippings on the dining-room table of her ritzy, downtown apartment. But the hint of cultural elitism--combined with a breezy dismissal of details--is the kiss of death when it comes to the Arizona electorate.

She has no regrets. Sargent leans back in a wicker chair in her apartment and thinks back to the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York City. The 11 Democratic women senatorial candidates had their picture taken with Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who, at the time, was the only Democratic woman serving in the Senate.

"After the thing was over," Sargent recalls, "Mikulski said, 'Everybody get outta here! . . . I want to talk to these women.' She said, 'Listen. I have been waiting for you.'"
Sargent stops, her eyes filling. "I'm gonna cry," she says, almost too softly to be heard.

Continuing, she says, "Mikulski told the women, 'I've been waiting for you for six years.' She said, 'You don't know what it's like being the only one.' She said, 'When you get there, we can change the Senate and change America.'"

The tears spill over. Sargent doesn't have any intention of running for office again, and she's not looking for an appointment. But she'd like to do something to represent women. She refuses to quit EMILY's List. "You don't just pick up your marbles and walk away," she says. "I feel that I still have something to say, that it [the Senate campaign] gave me a voice. . . . I don't know anybody else that speaks for the women. Do you?" She chuckles her throaty chuckle, adding, "I mean, maybe they don't want me to." Maybe they don't. Susan Gerard, who eschews the label "woman politician," says of Sargent: "I almost felt like she was an embarrassment to women.

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