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No woman has ever been nominated, much less elected, to a statewide political office in Utah. That could change this year and more change is in the political wind, a group of Democratic candidates said Saturday.

Women are coming into their own in the Utah political arena, picking up financial and party support, the candidates said at the spring meeting of the Utah Federation of Democratic Women.For some, the change isn't coming quickly enough.

"We've got to stride right in, sit in the front row, and participate," said Carbon County commissioner Emma Kuykendall, the first woman elected to that body. "Don't let the men shut you out. Be aggressive. Do it. Get involved," she urged.

None of the three Democratic candidates for governor made an outright promise to name a woman as his running mate but all three said they will consider all qualified candidates.

The one who came closest to making a promise was Byron Marchant. "Watch what I do," he told the women who pressed the candidates on their plans.

Stewart Hanson said he's been considering it and has held talks with potential running mates. "I'll go with the best possible candidate," he said, adding his campaign staff includes a high percentage of women because they're the best people for the job, not because of their gender.

There are women all around the state who are extraordinarily qualified to be lieutenant governor, Pat Shea said, and he's been talking to them. But he, too, said he'll name a running mate based on qualifications, not gender preference.

Janet Rose, running for attorney general, said her research shows that since statehood no woman has been nominated or elected to statewide office. Of the 480 candidates nominated by both parties in elections since statehood, all have been men, she said.

"The time is due. It's coming. It's changing," Rose said. "We can either be the party that nominates the 481st man or we can be the party that puts forth the best candidate," she said. "And some of those candidates are going to be women."

Both Rose and Karen Shepard, running for the 2nd Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Wayne Owens, said raising campaign funds and lining up support is getting easier for women but it's still difficult.

As more opportunities open up for women in society and business, they have more income and more options available, including supporting a candidate or running for office, said Shepard.

Women had a reputation as being poor contributors, Shepard said, but that is changing, too. Women's groups from around the country are supporting her campaign, she said.

The candidates agreed that one of the reasons women are being viewed as more viable candidates is that issues once considered "women's issues" are now in the forefront of political debate.

"Women are sick and tired of the point of view that buildings and roads and taxes come before the `bleeding heart' issues of health care, education, and poverty," Shepard said.

"These are business and economic development issues as well," said Shepard. "Children and the family have always been considered secondary priorities, they were `bleeding heart' issues.

"Children are not a peripheral issue," Shepard said. "We can't allow them to stand aside and get the crumbs that fall off the table or we're going to be in big trouble as we head into the next century."