WILLIAMS: Let’s hear it for the ladies in politics!
The results of this summer’s 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.
In California, Republicans nominated Carly Fiorina to run for Senate and Meg Whitman to run for governor. In New Mexico, Susana 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 South Carolina, Nikki Haley won the Republican nomination for governor of South Carolina.
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, Miss Angle seeks to cut federal waste by eliminating the Energy and Education departments. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll put her ahead of Mr. Reid by a 50 to 39 margin.
Of course, the conservative queen-maker and “tea party” standard bearer was Sarah Palin. Two of the primaries biggest winners, Mrs. Fiorina and Mrs. Haley, were endorsed by Mrs. Palin. Recently, Mrs. 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 women 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 with 25 percent who identify themselves as Republicans. The Democratic Party platform promotes equal social and economic outcomes with an emphasis on womens 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 Bella Abzug to Nancy Pelosi.
Now, the GOP is filling its ranks with women, in part because they are symbols of outsiders. Is this what Mrs. 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 Mrs. Palins success opened up new opportunities for women in the GOP.
Whereas the party traditionally excluded women, it is now embracing them 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 doesnt 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, recently observed, “[T]he 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 womens 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 itself 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 2008 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 women 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 the Obama administration and Congress.
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