When Hillary Clinton left the U.S. Senate to become Secretary of State on the 21st, the Senate was briefly one woman short. However, with this weekend's appointment of Albany-area Representative Kirsten Gillibrand to replace her, there is once again a female Senator from New York, restoring us to a total of 17 women in the current Senate – the highest total yet.

Let's meet the women of the upper chamber in the 111th Congress.

Kirsten Gillibrand (42, D-NY) will be sworn in Tuesday to become the 99th Senator of the 2009-2010 term. (The lawsuits to determine whether incumbent Norm Coleman (R) or challenger Al Franken (D) mean Minnesota's second Senate seat will remain upu in the air until at least mid-February.) She is the only woman among the four Senators appointed as replacements for members of President Obama's administration.

Gillibrand, first elected to the House in 2006, whomped her 2008 reelection opponent, former NY Secretary of State Alexander "Sandy" Treadwell, by a vote of 62-38%. She raised over 4.6 million dollars in the race, tithing nearly $200,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That tagged her in Washington as a serious power player, according to Politico, which made her an exemplar of the "7 habits of highly effective freshmen."

She has already taken some heat from her new constituents in the New York City region because of her 100% voting record with the National Rifle Association and membership in the conservative Blue Dog Coalition of House Dems. (She's one of six women in the group, which includes Loretta Sanchez and Jane Harman.) However, she also has a 90% rating from the ACLU, and appeared beside Al Sharpton at an event in Harlem on Saturday, pledging to square the needs of the hunters in her old district along the Vermont and Massachusetts borders with those of residents in dense cities who worry about handgun violence.

One of those constituents, House Representative Carolyn McCarthy, has already announced her intention to run against Gillibrand in a Democratic primary for the 2010 special election which will decide whether Gillibrand serves through the full Senate term. (Newsday reports that Caroline Kennedy and her family are also interested in backing a 2010 challenge.) Rep. McCarthy, whose husband was killed in a gun massacre on the Long Island Rail Road, refused to go to Gillibrand's appointment ceremony in Albany, expressing her dismay to senior Senator Charles Schumer. "He said, 'Why don't you give her a chance?'" McCarthy said. "I said, 'I've talked to her on the floor, I'm sorry, I can't.'"

Expect plenty of drama from the Empire State.

Kay Hagan (55, D-NC) defeated Elizabeth Dole (R) in the 2008 election, making North Carolina the first state to have elected women of both major parties to the Senate. She served as state senator, co-chairing the appropriations committee, for five terms before challenging Dole. In the U.S. Senate, she has been appointed to the Armed Services and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions ("HELP") committees.

Hagan began her political career working for her uncle, former Florida governor and Senator Lawton Chiles. She campaigned against Dole as a fighter for the middle class, emphasizing health care, pay equity, and the creation of green-energy jobs.

Her first speech on the Senate floor was for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which the Senate approved Thursday night.

Jeanne Shaheen (61, D-NH), three-term governor of New Hampshire, became the state's junior Senator in November when she defeated John E. Sununu in a rematch of their 2002 Senate election. The new senator told the crowd at an EMILY's List luncheon last week that the group's founder, Ellen Malcolm, had asked Shaheen to run again and "wouldn't take no for an answer," according to the Manchester Union-Leader.

As governor, she ended New Hampshire's ignobility of being the last state to honor Martin Luther King Day, and pushed through the nation's first power-plant emissions reduction law. She now sits on the energy, small business, and foreign relations committees. Her first Senate bill, co-sponsored by her New Hampshire colleague, Judd Gregg, is aimed at ensuring that all veterans have access to full-service hospitals under Veterans' Administration coverage without having to go out-of-state.

In her first floor speech, Shaheen advocated for greater federal support for alternative energy and green-collar jobs.

Amy Klobuchar (48, DFL-MN), elected in 2006, has taken a position in the spotlight as the sole Senator for Minnesota until the Coleman-Franken race is resolved. Newly appointed to the judiciary committee, she will be on the panel this week in the confirmation hearings for Attorney General designate Eric Holder. 

A former prosecutor, Klobuchar has pushed for consumer protections and child safety. She has taken a nuanced position on national security and intelligence, voting for the "Protect America Act" that allowed warrantless wiretapping on cross-border phone calls, but has opposed domestic wiretaps, telecom immunity, waterboarding and the increased deployment of troops to Iraq.

Last week, in the debate over the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Klobuchar gave an example of the difficulties an ordinary, collegial, ethical employee would have learning that she was underpaid.

Claire McCaskill (55, D-MO) won a hard-fought 2006 election against incumbent Jim Talent sparked by statewide ballot initiatives concerning raising the minimum wage and allowing the state to fund embryonic stem cell research. The latter issue featured a host of celebrity-driven television ads–including one featuring Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's Disease, supporting both McCaskill and the initiative.

In her first term, McCaskill and Barack Obama–both members of the Armed Services Committee–responded to the Walter Reed Army Hospital scandal with legislation that increased funding for veterans' medical services and oversight over military medical facilities. The two cooperated to draft other bills to increase access to rural healthcare and help the families of service members who were deployed overseas. As a result, McCaskill was one of the first Senators to endorse Obama in the 2008 Presidential primary.

Her latest legislative victory, just before the holiday break, was to increase the power of the Inspector General to oversee and audit the financial industry bailout.

Lisa Murkowski (51, R-AK) was appointed by her father, Frank Murkowski, to fill his Senate seat after he was elected governor in 2002. She was re-elected two years later by a large margin, with the support of then-senior Senator Ted Stevens.

She is a member of Republicans for Choice (along with the Senate's other three Republican women), but has only a 14% vote rating from NARAL, and a 50% rating from the National Right-to-Life Committee. This year, she has become the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Maria Cantwell (50, D-WA). In 2000, when the founder of Real.com first entered the Democratic primary for the Senate, the burning question among many women was: "Will the winner be the
high-profile insurance commissioner with a fistful of endorsements from
labor and women's groups, or the high-profile Internet millionaire who's
been endorsed by every newspaper in five counties?" But by this month, Cantwell was spending Inauguration Week hanging out with Deborah Senn, that insurance commissioner, not as an opponent but as as a twice-elected rising star of the Senate.

Since her arrival in Washington, Cantwell has survived both well-funded Republican opponents and criticism for her initial support of the war in Iraq, re-elected in 2006 with 57% of the vote and becoming a high-profile member of the Senate Commerce Committee. During the 2008 campaign, Cantwell stood beside Feinstein and the rest of the female Senators as they announced the Checklist for Change; and while supportive of President Obama, whose inaugural address she praised as "inspiring," and "very pragmatic."

Cantwell showed her independence the very next day by voting against the administration's newest bailout package for Wall Street.

Debbie Stabenow (58, D-MI). Another 2000 victor, Stabenow had first made headlines by taking a bus full of senior citizens across the border to Canada to buy medications,to dramatize the high costs of prescription drugs in the United States. Stabenow trounced one-term Senator Spencer Abraham (with the help of Robert Gibbs, now White House press secretary), and has become quite a Senate power broker from her seat on Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, negotiating a larger, four-seat advantage for Democrats on the
Appropriations and Armed Services Committees. Meanwhile, Stabenow has
continued to press on health care, most recently co-sponsoring bills to improve technology and curb smoking, and joining Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm in pressing for help with her state's beleaguered auto industry. Below, she speaks to the Senate on the reasons for the overall stimulus bill.

Blanche Lincoln (48, D-AR). The youngest woman (at 38) ever elected to the Senate when she arrived in 1998, Lincoln has most recently made headlines when a task force she convened reported that the White House, now home to the country's first African-American First Family, was built by slave labor (and, for many years, largely staffed by slaves). Often described as one of the Senate's most conservative Democrats and a likely member of Senator Evan Bayh's planned Senate "Blue Dog" caucus, Lincoln also co-founded in 2005 the moderate think tank Third Way, and is now one of its honorary Senate chairs (along with Claire McCaskill, above). Nonetheless, during last week's Senate vote on the Fair Pay act, Lincoln was among those who voted to block an amendment by Kaye Bailey Hutchinson that would have given employees a six-month limit for discovering pay discrimination.

Lincoln connects with her Arkansas constituents on her own cable talk show, "Lincoln's Watch on Washington."

Next installment: The senior members, from Susan Collins to Barbara Mikulski.

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