When 2010 was lauded as the “year of the woman” for political candidates, pundits on both sides of the aisle cheered the fact that more women were running for office than ever before.
There was only one small problem — many of them were running against each other.
At best, women were looking at maintaining status quo, swapping a female incumbent with a female challenger. But the result was a worst-case scenario: Due to primary losses and a Tea Party wave, the country actually ended up with fewer women in Congress than prior to Election Day.
Since then, women have slowly begun to regain ground. With the help of special election wins in New York, California and Oregon, women had regained their numbers.
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Now, we are hearing it again. “The 2012 election will be the year of the woman.” But what is different this time?
Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY’s List, an organization dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office, says this year the difference is the candidates.
“At EMILY’s List, we like to think of every year as the year of the woman. It’s something that doesn’t just happen in one cycle. We have to keep on the pressure, to add women to Congress and to governorships around the country.”
“In 2010, the [year of the woman] language was really pushed by the Republicans,” noted Schriock. “And it was so sad. At the end of the day, less than a third of their candidates made it through their primaries. They had more candidates running, but they didn’t make it through the primaries. Why? Because the Republican party has moved so far to the right on these social issues that moderate Republican women have nowhere to go in their party. The Republican party has really embraced an anti-choice, anti-woman agenda that is alienating a lot of women candidates, and, quite frankly, women voters.”
“It’s kind of ironic that 2010 was called the year of the conservative woman,” said Erin Matson, Action Vice President for the National Organization for Women. “And it’s the first time that the percentage of women in Congress has gone down. It was the year of the conservative woman and look what we got.”
“Now in 2012, what we have now seen is a historic number of Democratic women stepping up for office,” said Schriock. “They are running because they want to move this country to a more progressive future. They are running because they want to protect their daughters and granddaughters and, quite frankly, their sons and grandsons, from this Republican move to roll the clock back 50 years.”
“We have got to win these elections in 2012,” agreed Matson. “It is clear that elections have dire consequences and more or less death threats to women based on what they are doing. It’s clear we need more women, pro-choice women in office.”
Of course, this year there are more female Republican challengers being pitted against female Democratic incumbents, just as in the 2010 cycle. A look at Missouri, where Sarah Steelman is hoping to win this week’s primary and run against Sen. Claire McCaskill this fall, or the race between Wendy Long and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand brings to mind a replay of many of last cycle’s woman-against-woman races.
But there is chance for some gains as well. For example, if Democrat Maize Hirono wins her primary this week, then regardless of who wins the actual general election there will be at least one new female senator taking the oath in 2013. Or if Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren can pull off the increasingly tight race to unseat Republican Scott Brown, that would be a net gain.
Can 2012 live up to its “year of the woman” high expectations? If so, this time it might not just be a gain for women candidates, but for the women of America, too.