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ELECTIONS / U.S. SENATE : Nine Candidates Target 'Men's Club'


Hollywood provided the glitter, glamour and campaign gold at the gala of the political year, but nine women candidates for the U.S. Senate generated the energy and no-nonsense message that grabbed the audience.

"This is not just an election. It is a time for justice," said Geri Rothman-Serot, a candidate for the Democratic nomination to run against Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) in November.

Carol Moseley Braun of Chicago, who dumped incumbent Democrat Sen. Alan Dixon in the Illinois primary, pledged that in 1992 women "will lead the way for change--to heal and nurture this wounded country."

"The right of women to participate as full and equal citizens in this land is too important to leave to the good ol' boys network," said Braun, who would be the first black female senator.

There were similar messages from the other seven, including California Democratic Senate nominees Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, at a $500-a-person fund-raising dinner held by the Hollywood Women's Political Committee at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills on Wednesday night. They dealt with abortion rights, health care, education and other issues revolving around women, children and families.

They all fell under the collective umbrella of breaking up the "men's club" in the U.S. Senate and the sharing of power. Of the 100 incumbents, only two are women: Republican Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas and Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland.

Headliner Barbra Streisand sounded the keynote to a program that included speeches from all nine Democratic candidates, a series of barbed one-liners from emcee Lily Tomlin and a star-studded chorus singing "Common Threads," written for the candidates by Marvin Hamlisch and Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

Streisand said: "Women are a majority of this nation. We have borne and raised its children, worked side by side with men in war and peace. We care for the elderly. We teach the young. We pay taxes. And we contribute to our nation's culture.

"It's time we had a place at the table where the life and death decisions of the country, the world and the planet are made."

Nearly 20 women are major candidates for the Senate and scores are running for the House. Their success to date and the high visibility of "women's issues" such as abortion rights have led political commentators to refer to 1992 as the Year of the Woman in politics.

Some political observers and candidates dispute that idea. There had been talk of a gender gap in past elections, but on election days, women and men generally voted party loyalty ahead of gender consideration.

In Washington on Thursday, Senate Republican nominee Bruce Herschensohn, Boxer's opponent for the seat held by Democrat Alan Cranston, said of the woman's year concept: "I think that is prejudiced. I think that is sexist. I have no interest in the sex or gender of a political candidate."

The dinner crowd of 700 was mostly female, and grossed about $375,000 to be distributed among the nine candidates. All the entertainers were women. The "Common Threads" chorus included such stars as Cybill Shepherd, Melissa Manchester, Judy Collins, Patti Austin, Vanessa Williams, Dionne Warwick and a group from Los Angeles' First African Methodist Episcopal Church.

But the gala was no mere "love fest," as one Republican campaign official had characterized it.

"This is not a one-night phenomenon," said Feinstein campaign manager Kam Kuwata. "There's an energy there that is going to be vital--that is going to carry over the next four months."

Nor was it the traditional Hollywood political bash where patrons listened politely--and, hopefully, briefly--to the politicians while waiting for the headline act, and tiptoed to exits as soon as it seemed safe.

To be sure, Streisand got standing ovations and Tomlin drew repeated guffaws and cackles for her rapier thrusts, such as: "The last time we celebrated the Year of the Woman was 72 years ago when women got the vote. Boy, time sure flies when you're being oppressed.

"Women worked so hard to get the vote only to find out they had nothing to vote for but men."

This crowd stayed and applauded repeatedly through nine political speeches. Other examples:

* Boxer, California--"The women candidates for the Senate in this room are going to bring common sense, compassion and guts to the United States Senate, and that's what the voters want."

* Josie Heath, Colorado--On watching the Senate vote on the Persian Gulf War resolution: "I thought, where are the mothers to join the fathers to decide today if our sons and if our daughters will go to war?"

* Patty Murray, Washington state--"Why are these people not dealing with the issues that are important to our children and our families and our future?"

* Feinstein, California--"I've seen what's happened to the cities of America in Ronald Reagan's and George Bush's America. And it's got to stop."

* Jean Lloyd-Jones, Iowa--Of her prospective GOP opponent, Sen. Charles E. Grassley: "He is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that embarrassed and insulted Iowa" during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearing.

* Lynn Yeakel, Pennsylvania--The U.S. Supreme Court "has given my home state of Pennsylvania the most disgraceful abortion law" in the nation, and "(Republican Sen.) Arlen Specter is going to answer for that."

* Geraldine A. Ferraro, New York--Referring to the abortion decision: "We're not going to let the '90s go down as the decade that the Soviets won their rights and we lost ours."

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