The Year of the Republican Woman? Not Really

Amie Newman

Yes, we've heard over and over again about the Republican women running for office because of the O'Donnell gaffes and Angle embarrassments. But what do the numbers say?

The talk has been about Republican female candidates this year but to what end? 

There are more Republican women running for office, and more women on the whole filing to run for Senate than ever before. Thirty-six women (19 Democrats and 17 Republicans) filed in the U.S. Senate.

According to the Center for Women in Politics at Rutgers University, more non-incumbent GOP women are running for office than at any time in this country’s history. It’s not surprising, of course, given all of the talk about “Mama Grizzlies” and the conservative “feminism” Palin and her cohorts espouse. We’ve heard more than enough about Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle. But while there were a record breaking number of Republican female candidates in the primaries, Democratic women fared better in the outcomes.

Nine Democrats and five Republicans won their primary Senate races. Six were incumbents.

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According to the Center’s Debbie Walsh on NPR this morning, in the House, only 28 percent of the non-incumbent Republican women running won their primaries, while 46 percent of Democratic women won theirs. This equates to a total of 138 women who won primaries around the country, for House seats; 91 Democrats and 47 Republicans. Sixty-nine (54 Democrats and 15 Republicans) are incumbents running for re-election.

As for gubernatorial races, there are a total of ten women running across the country. One female candidate is an incumbent (that would be Gov. Jan Brewer of AZ); in Oklahoma, as we now know, the race is between two women.

So what do these numbers really mean?

One theme that sticks out, to Walsh, is that though more Republican females have run this time around, they did not come out victorious after the primaries. Her theory? Republican women tend to be more moderate than their male Republican counterparts so those that won (O’Donnell, Angle) are the more extreme candidates. Look at Republican Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, who ran for Senate on a more moderate platform against Palin/Tea Party supported Joe Miller – she lost her bid because of said platform.

But while more women are running, we’re simply not attaining the levels of leadership, in Congress, and in higher offices as we need to be in order to pass laws that help establish equity and justice for women and girls.

According to Walsh, women hold less than 17 percent of Congressional seats. Only six women currently serve as governor; and less than a quarter of all state legislatures are women.

The focus on Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle make for good and often entertaining news stories but they aren’t getting to the heart of the issue.

What we really need to be focusing on are the issues that affect women of all ages, ethnicities, races, income levels, and sexual orientations.

What are the policies needed (and who will actually help advocate for them) that help raise the status of women and girls in society – policies that ensure fair pay in the workplace, laws that provide paid leave for new parents, affordable childcare, women’s health care access including abortion care, and contraceptive insurance coverage to name a few. But if the more moderate Republican female candidates who may be more apt to support some of these critical policies are pushed aside by Tea Party extremists and Republican status-quo seekers, if Democrats do not acknowledge the real inequity even in its own party when it comes to gender and race, we won’t see real change anytime soon.

And while it may be remarkable that more women than ever have run for Congress, the real change will be evident only when we see actual equity in governmental representation and in society as a whole.

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