- Associated Press - Saturday, May 10, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - A woman nicknamed Rocky. A daughter of former migrant farmworkers. A child of politics.

These female candidates for the House embody Democratic hopes in a rough election year.

President Barack Obama’s unpopularity is a drag on his fellow Democrats, and no one is talking seriously about breaking the GOP lock on the House in midterm elections, when the president’s party traditionally loses seats.

But Democrats, after robust recruiting of female candidates, are counting on women to knock out a few GOP men.

That’s where Rocky from New Mexico - 39-year-old Roxanne “Rocky” Lara - comes in.

The former Eddy County commissioner, who got her nickname from an uncle, is an underdog against Republican Rep. Steve Pearce in a district that stretches across the southern part of the state. The five-term conservative has $1.4 million cash on hand in a district that leans Republican.

Lara is counting on winning over voters with a record of bipartisanship, working-class issues such as raising the minimum wage, support for an immigration overhaul in a Hispanic-leaning district and, in a break with liberals, backing of the Keystone XL pipeline. She adds a dose of gender politics.

Pearce, in his memoir published this year, wrote that the “wife is to voluntarily submit, just as the husband is to lovingly lead and sacrifice.” The Baptist lawmaker’s writings were based on his reading of the Bible.

In a recent interview, Lara said her campaign is drawing “the contrast between my experience, my beliefs and my values and what I’m going to work for, compared to those 1950s beliefs that Congressman Pearce lives by.”

In California, 39-year-old Amanda Renteria is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, was educated at Stanford and Harvard, and was the first Latina chief of staff in the U.S. Senate. She worked for two of the 20 women in the Senate - Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

Renteria is looking to unseat first-term Rep. David Valadao, a third-generation farmer, in the Central Valley. She disagrees with Obama’s efforts to cut crop insurance in a district the president won with 55 percent of the vote, and criticizes her rival as immigration legislation founders in the GOP-controlled House.

She says that sends a clear message of disrespect to families and the Hispanic community, and offers a saying in Spanish. The translation: “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.”

In Florida, Gwen Graham, 51, is trying to emulate the campaign success of her father, Bob Graham, a former governor and senator, in a race against two-term Rep. Steve Southerland in the Panhandle. She criticizes his vote against the Violence Against Women Act, has adopted her father’s “work days” to gain insights into the lives of Florida residents and insists that she’ll be a pragmatic Democrat in his mold.

Graham says complaints that she was riding her father’s coattails initially held her back.

“I don’t think if my father had had a son that there would have been that hesitation to make sure that I had all the skill sets before I offered myself for office,” she said.

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