Monday, November 08, 2010

Why The GOP's Year Of The Woman Strategy Was A Self-Inflicted Disaster

In many ways, the 2010 mid-term elections were about women.

There were a record number of woman Republican candidates running for the U.S. Senate and statehouses. There were a record number of high profile Republican woman candidates, including Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina and Linda McMahon. Sarah Palin pitched her brand of "conservative feminism" to the Tea Party faithful, and woman voters once again outnumbered men, as they have since 1980.

Yes, if Republican leaders were to be believed, the mid-terms were shaping up to be a watershed election for women.

Women are, after all, the most vital demographic because, as was the case with the Obama-McCain showdown in 2008, they determine the outcome of elections. But that reality had become a problem for the Republican Party because generally speaking women lean left and prefer policy over politics, while the GOP has leaned increasingly to the right and has been pretty much bereft of policies in its thirst for playing politics and anti-Obama obstructionism.

That was all going to be so much history after mid-term ballots were counted. But was it? How did Republican woman candidates actually do?

The short answer is poorly overall, and that becomes even more true when you factor in the fact that woman candidates -- let alone woman voters -- are as different as . . . uh, male candidates and male voters.

Indeed, Whitman, who got her clock cleaned in California, and Nikki Haley, who in South Carolina was one of the relatively few Republican woman success stories, could not be more different policy-wise. Same for Fiorina in California and Angle in Nevada. (The other Republican success stories of note were Susana Martinez, who beat a Democratic woman to become the first Latina governor in U.S. history, and Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte, who won by a landslide in New Hampshire.)

In retrospect, the record number of GOP candidates for high-profile offices and in high-profile races was identity politics at its most blatant. The Republicans are masters of the lowest common denominator, and this simply was a bald-faced effort to out Democrat the Democrats gender-wise.

That effort failed not because the Democratic candidates were more formidable. Indeed, Harry Reid in Nevada, Chris Combs in Delaware, Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer in California, as well as Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut were, to varying degrees, vulnerable because some were much disliked incumbents in a year when the anti-incumbent tide supposedly was at flood stage.

That effort also failed despite the fact that the women who gave Obama his landslide -- single mothers and women of color -- stayed away from the mid-terms in droves while the women who voted for McCain -- older and married with children -- showed up in droves.

In the end, women split their votes 48-49 for Democrats and Republicans, and
there actually was a net loss in the total number of women in political office for the first time in 30 years.

No, the Republican effort failed because of the underlying folly of a strategy that depended on candidates who happened to be women, not quality woman candidates. In fact, an election heralded as a watershed year for woman Republican candidates turned out to be a self-inflicted disaster.

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