WASHINGTON - Widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo is giving female candidates one of the best chances to significantly boost their ranks within Congress and statehouses since the heralded "Year of the Woman" in 1992.
"I've been calling it the perfect storm for these women," said Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "Before they even open their mouths, it's clear they are not your standard-issue members of Congress - not white male, blue suit with red tie."
"They look like change, and are seen as agents of change," Ms. Walsh said.
The ranks of competitive female candidates this year are lopsidedly Democratic.
Of the 140 women running for the House, 98 are Democrats. On the Senate side, 12 women are running, eight of them Democrats. The party is particularly hopeful for female candidates in two Senate races: Amy Klobuchar is favored to win a Minnesota seat held by retiring Democrat Mark Dayton, and Claire McCaskill is running neck-and-neck with Republican Sen. Jim Talent in Missouri.
Record numbers of women now serve in the House (67) and Senate (14).
In the 36 governor's races this year, 10 women are running, half of them incumbents and half of them Democrats. There are currently eight female governors, six of them Democrats. In state legislative races, a record 2,431 female candidates are running this year, 1,563 of whom are Democrats. The previous record of 2,375 was set in 1992, but the numbers of female candidates seemed to hit a plateau after that.
Dennis Simon, a Southern Methodist University professor who studies women in politics, said this year's climate is tailor-made for female candidates. Dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq might make voters more inclined to identify with women, seeing them as mothers whose children might be sent to war. And questions about inside-the-Beltway ethics also might benefit female candidates, Mr. Simon said.
In the current House, 43 women are Democrats and 24 are Republicans. Two are sure to be gone. In Florida, Republican Rep. Katharine Harris decided to run for the Senate but is thought to have no chance of victory. In Georgia, Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney lost in the primary.
In the Senate, nine women are Democrats and five are Republicans.
"This is exactly the year that we've been working toward," said Karen M. White, the political director of Emily's List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights.
The group thinks it can add 10 to 15 seats in the House, Ms. White said. A swing of 15 seats to the Democrats is exactly the margin needed to shift control of the House from the Republicans.