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Republican Women Play Key Role in US Elections

Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle speaks at a rally in Las Vegas, 21 Oct 2010

Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle speaks at a rally in Las Vegas, 21 Oct 2010

Republicans have fielded a record number of female congressional candidates for the November 2 midterm elections.

Republican Party women candidates are receiving a lot of media attention in congressional and gubernatorial races across the United States.

Public opinion surveys show the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Nevada, Sharron Angle, is virtually tied with Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid only days ahead of the vote.

Angle has aggressively attacked Reid for being too soft on the issue of illegal immigrants and for voting for expensive government programs.

"Man up, Harry Reid! You need to understand that we have a problem with social security," she said.

Angle is one of several prominent female candidates who call themselves Tea Party Republicans, who support limited government, a strong military and low taxes.

"They tend to be very conservative - along the lines of Sharron Angle in Nevada or Christine O'Donnell in Delaware," said Michael O'Brien, a staff writer for The Hill newspaper. "And they are sort of this new era, this new generation of women leaders in the Republican Party that [former Alaska Governor] Sarah Palin is kind of an unofficial figurehead for."

Christine O'Donnell, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Delaware, says the media call her and other Tea Party candidates extremists and treat them unfairly.

"They call us wacky. They call us wing nuts," she said. "We call us, 'We the people.'"

Former Alaska Governor and Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin has given her backing to some of the Republican women candidates. She has coined the phrase "mama grizzlies" [i.e., female grizzly bears] to describe caring, but strong, women.

"Washington, let me tell you, you no doubt do not want to mess with moms who are rising up," said Palin. "In Alaska, I always think of the mama grizzly bears that rise up on their hind legs when somebody is coming to attack their cubs, to do something adverse toward their cubs. No, the mama grizzlies - they rear up, and if you thought pit bulls were tough, well, you do not want to mess with the mama grizzlies. And I think there are a whole lot of those in this room!"

Michelle Bernhard of the Independent Women's Forum, a non-partisan research group, says this group of female candidates is different because they are not focused on their gender and that they are not asking women to vote for them because they are women.

"Today, you see women campaigning on the economy, on education, on poverty, on prosperity, national security and terrorism," she said. "And we have finally gotten to a point in time when most of the American public sees that women's issues are no different than men's, and we see that in the candidates that are at the top of the tickets in state and national ballots across the country."

Bernhard says Sarah Palin might be an inspiration for some female candidates, but she adds:

"I firmly believe that all of these women would have run and were probably thinking about running long before Sarah Palin was on the vice presidential ticket with Senator McCain [who ran for U.S. president in 2008]. I think women have been getting involved in politics at the local, state and national level for a long time, and we are finally just seeing women rise through the ranks," she said.

"I think it is fair to say they were inspired to run, less by the fact that she was another woman than the fact that she espoused the sort of Tea Party affinity, ideology that she espouses, said David Hawkings, the Managing Editor of CQ, or Congressional Quarterly, Weekly magazine. "Yes, it is true that just two years ago was the first time that a Republican female was on a national party ticket. Sarah Palin was the first time that a Republican female was on a national ticket."

Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population and only 17 percent of the House of Representatives and 17 percent of the Senate.

But Hawkings says it is unlikely that the number of women in Congress will increase on November 2nd.

"For every Republican or Democratic woman who is going to win, some are retiring and some are going to lose," he said. "In California, for example, Carly Fiorina, who is the former head of Hewlett-Packard and the Republican nominee for the Senate, is running against another woman, Barbara Boxer. So whoever wins that one, it will be just no net gain on women."

Some of the women who might lose their congressional seats this year, like Boxer and Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, hold powerful committee chairmanships. If Republicans win majority control of the House of Representatives, Democrat Nancy Pelosi - the first female Speaker of the House - would be replaced.

Michelle Bernard of the Independent Women's Forum says that if female candidates lose this year, it will not be because of their gender. She says a recent survey of 1,000 independent voters reveals that voters are unhappy with both major political parties.

"This is a beauty contest where all the contestants are ugly. They do not like the Democrats; they do not like the Republicans," she said. "They happen to be leaning Republican right now - not as a vote for Republicans, but as a vote against Democrats. And I think that is what is going to be very telling about the November elections."

Some veteran female incumbents who hold senior positions in Congress might find themselves replaced by members of a new wave of women candidates.