The gender gap has long been the bane of the GOP. Women in general have turned
against the Republican Party, especially African-American women and younger
single women. While the GOP has consistently done very well with white men,
winning that demographic overwhelmingly for as long as I have been voting, the
gender gap has kept the GOP from achieving the dominance that some have long
The soccer moms played a crucial role in propelling Bill Clinton to two triumphs in the 1990s, just as the security moms played an equally crucial role in the two Bush victories in 2000 and 2004. White women proved to be the critical voting bloc for Barack Obama in 2008, as John McCain’s cowboy-themed maverick just didn’t click with the chicks.
The Tea Party hasn’t been particularly kind to Republican women, although of course, they love Sarah Palin. Palin polls poorly among female voters, especially more affluent and educated white female voters, and all too often, Republican female candidates don’t hold up to Tea Party scrutiny. Dede Scozzafava, the losing Republican candidate in the New York House seat, is but one example of a female candidate who wasn’t conservative enough in the eyes of the GOP/Tea Party base (despite being the choice of the GOP establishment), and she was basically run out of town.
But if the latest polls can be believed, that might be starting to change.
In California, two white females are looking like they are going to beat back challenges from the right and win their party’s nominations for the Senate and governorship. In South Carolina, another woman is closing fast to replace Mark Sanford, despite an ugly campaign that includes charges of adultery and all kinds of other malfeasance. In Nevada, two women are the front-runners to take on Harry Reid. And more Republican women are poised to win nominations in the House than at any other time in our national history.
Democrats broke the glass ceiling in 2006 by electing the first female Speaker of the House in history. Then in 2008, they unceremoniously dumped their front-runner for president, who happened to be a woman, and gave the nomination to an inexperienced African-American man with a funny last name. Many thought that by failing to nominate Hillary Clinton, who was clearly more qualified to be president than Barack Hussein Obama, the Democrats took two huge steps back in the fight for female equality.
Democratic female officeholders tend to make a bigger deal out of their gender than Republican female officeholders. They tend to wrap themselves in the pro-choice flag, they tend to stress children’s issues, and they like to focus on the warm-and-fuzzies.
Republican female officeholders tend to play down their gender. If they are pro-choice, they don’t make a big deal out of it, but they tend to be pro-life. They focus on business issues and oppose government expansion. They also tend to portray themselves as reformers, because, obviously, their gender distances them from the old boys’ clubs that dot state capitols around the country.
That is certainly the case with Palin, and it seems also to be the case with Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina and, in South Carolina, Nikki Haley. Sharron Angle, who looks like she will win in the Nevada primary, also fits the bill.
This is a good development for Republicans. Having pro-business, pro-reform Republican women running and winning from east to west may very well be the way that the GOP can recapture control of the Senate, win critical governorships and rebrand the party to close the gender gap for the foreseeable future.