ATLANTA — The last time a historic wave of women ran for office, in 1992, California became the first state to send two women to the U.S. Senate.
A quarter century after setting that milestone, the state known for its progressive politics is still waiting for its first female governor. This year’s candidates are two white men.
Other populous states, including New York, Florida and Illinois, also have never elected a woman as governor.
On this, one of the most progressive states may be a surprise — Kansas.
The reliably conservative state in the nation’s heartland has elected two female governors and could elect a third, Democrat Laura Kelly, on Nov. 6.
“In some ways, it is part of the culture of the state,” said former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat. “There’s been a long tradition of women doing their part, holding their own, being in responsible positions.”
Another conservative state, Arizona, has had four women serve as governor — the most of any state. Texas has had two.
In all, 39 women in 28 states have served as governor, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
Delaine Eastin, a former state schools superintendent who finished sixth this year in California’s open gubernatorial primary, said it’s difficult to break through in a large state.
The former lawmaker said it’s hard to raise money and be taken seriously running for statewide office where there is a long line of veteran male politicians waiting for their chance.
During her recent campaign, Eastin recalled meeting with a labor group whose representative later told her she was the best interview of all the candidates for governor. But the union would not be endorsing her because it could not see her path to victory.
“There is a tendency to look past us or underestimate us,” Eastin said.
Even name recognition and party bona fides are no guarantee of success. Gwen Graham, a congresswoman and daughter of a former governor, lost her bid for Florida governor in this year’s Democratic primary despite outraising the eventual winner, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
In New York, actress Cynthia Nixon lost her Democratic primary battle against incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a formidable incumbent expert at working the levers of the party machinery. His campaign repeatedly dismissed Nixon’s campaign as the frivolous work of an amateur.
The losing experiences of female candidates this year in California, Florida and New York show why there is no clear answer about why women have struggled running for governor in some states.
“There are so many factors that are influential in both who becomes a candidate and who becomes the ultimate winner, it’s hard to isolate gender in these races,” said Kelly Dittmar, a Rutgers University professor who studies gender and politics.