Let’s hear it for the girls!
Let’s hear it for the girls!
The results of the recent primary elections have political pundits declaring 2010 to be the year of the woman. This may be true, but the real story is that this is the year of the conservative woman.
This year the GOP has nominated more female candidates than in any previous election cycle. The number of GOP women running for U.S. House or Senate seats has doubled over the past two years.
In California, Republicans nominated Carly Fiorina to run for Senate and Meg Whitman to run for governor. In New Mexico, Sussana Martinez was nominated by the Republicans to run for governor. Linda McMahon, who formerly headed World Wrestling Entertainment, is the GOP Senate nominee in Connecticut.
In Nevada, former state assemblywoman Sharron Angle was nominated by the Republicans to run against the Liberal Democratic standard bearer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. An unwavering conservative, Angle seeks to cut federal waste by eliminating the Departments of Energy and Education. A recent Rasmussen poll put her ahead of Reid by a 50 to 39 margin.
In South Carolina, Nikki Heley will be a candidate in a run-off election. Of course the conservative queen-maker and Tea Party standard bearer was Sarah Palin. Two of the recent primaries’ biggest winners, Fiorina and Haley, were endorsed by Palin.
This past month, Palin threw her support behind three more female GOP candidates, whom she called “liberty-loving Mama Grizzlies.” For the first time in history, the conservative movement and the Republican Party are headlined by women rather than middle-aged white men.
This marks quite a change. Since the 1960s civil right movements, American woman tended to sympathize with the liberal policies of the Democratic Party and identify themselves as Democrats. Forty-one percent of American women identify themselves as Democrats compared to 25 percent who identify themselves as Republicans.
The Democratic Party platform promotes equal social and economic outcomes with an emphasis on women’s rights and liberal social policies. These policies are designed to appeal to the disenfranchised members of society, which formerly included most women. Furthermore, women played a prominent role in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party from Bela Abzug to Nancy Pelosi.
Now, the GOP is filling its ranks with women, in part because they are symbols of outsiders. Is this what Palin has referred to as “an emerging, conservative, feminist agenda?”
It may be a bit too early to discern trends. But there is no doubt that Palin’s success owned up new opportunities for women in the GOP. Whereas the party traditionally excluded women, it is now embracing females as symbols of an alternative to the male-dominated status quo in the capital. As the party’s base moves increasingly from its born-again roots, a unique brand of feminism seems to be emerging on the right.
Interestingly, this new breed of female Republicans doesn’t seem to be emphasizing women’s issues. Fiscal conservatism — not gender — is the central issue in their campaigns. This seems to mark a new role for women in politics. Rather than leading with reproductive rights, female Republicans are emphasizing ideas. Or, as Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster, observed, “The political establishment has been insulting women for decades by presuming that all women in politics are about is abortion, that we can’t do the math, we don’t understand tax policy.” It turns out, she adds, that “we can do the math and girl talk 2010 is all about fiscal issues.”
The implications are profound. The fact that women are pushing into the GOP mainstream suggests seismic shifts in the party as well as women’s roles at work and at home. Clearly, the GOP is now as comfortable as the Democrats with the idea of women in high office. Not only could an increase in female representatives add kick to the Republican Party by disassociating it with its image as an old (Southern, white) boys club, but it could send a powerful message of diversity that could be crucial to capturing independent voters in several fall midterm races.
It may be early to predict a large scale exodus among women from the Democratic Party. But even a small shift in party loyalty could change the outcome of the next election. In the last presidential election, President Obama won the votes of 56 percent of women and 48 percent of men.
If there is a seismic shift taking place among women voters and 10 percent of the independent and Democratic woman vote for Republican Senate and congressional candidates, there could easily be a major change in the control of congress. If that shift continues through the 2012 election, it could even result in a roll back of some of the liberal social welfare policies of this administration and congress.
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