New report highlights challenges for women candidates

Female candidates across the country are proving strong contenders in competitive Senate and House races this election cycle, and a new report aims to give them the tools to win.

The Barbara Lee Foundation report, titled "Keys to Elected Office: The Essential Guide for Women," focuses on women candidates running for governor but acknowledges the barriers for women running for any elected office and makes suggestions for how to overcome them. 

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For women such as Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) of Kentucky and Joni Ernst (R) of Iowa running in high-profile races that could determine control of the Senate, these guidelines may become increasingly important as the country approaches the midterm elections and a potential Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign. 

The report suggests that female candidates face obstacles distinct from men "because voters expect more from women and afford them different advantages," the report says in its introduction. According to the report, women candidates must always appear experienced, organized and in control of their campaign. 

Female candidates find it much more difficult to recover from a campaign mistake than men and must be careful to be perceived as encompassing all of the appealing characteristics of a candidate running for office, the report contends.  

The report does indicate that women may be able to connect with voters more on the economy than they have been able to in the past. "Being good on education and healthcare helps them to be seen as good on the economy," the report states of both male and female candidates. 

Women running for office also benefit from the "virtue advantage" and are typically seen as being more honest and ethical than men, the report finds. Yet because of this, "a women candidate who falls off her political pedestal pays a high price in the loss of voter esteem," the report says. 

The report is the compilation of research done on women's campaigns for governor from 1998 to 2013. Among the firms working on the project were Democratic research and consulting firm Lake Research Partners, Republican firms American Viewpoint Inc. and Chesapeake Beach Consulting; and Hughes & Co.