Election of Republican women may tip power in D.C., alter party perception
West Virginians this fall will elect a woman to the U.S. Senate for the first time, and the contenders are among 14 women seeking Senate seats, half of them Republicans.
That's significant, said Jennifer Lawless, a professor of government and women-in-politics at American University in Washington, because it could help the Republican Party demonstrate it is not hostile toward women.
“It can help with refuting the Democrat ‘war on women' message if (Republicans) can say this year they have a solid number of female candidates,” Lawless said, women who are “not only running as sacrificial lambs but in quite competitive races.”
Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant won their parties' nominations last week to compete to replace West Virginia's retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat in the seat since 1984.
“With the primary behind us, it's time for all of us to come together and focus on what really matters — protecting jobs, the economy and our cherished way of life by bringing West Virginia values to the U.S. Senate,” Capito posted on her website.
Tennant's election-night statement forecast a fight: “I view this race as a clear choice between the Washington politics and Wall Street dollars that Congresswoman Capito represents, and the West Virginia values and working families that I represent.”
A win by Capito, considered the favorite, might help tip the balance of power in Washington, some analysts have said.
Democrats have 55 seats in the Senate; Republicans need a net gain of six in November to win majority control. Thirty-three of the 100 Senate seats are contested in regular elections, and voters will decide three more through special elections.
Among the 20 female senators, Democrats hold a lopsided advantage with 16, three of whom — Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire — are up for re-election. One of the Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, is running.
On Thursday, Republican National Committee Co-Chair Sandra Day visited Pittsburgh to promote “14 in '14,” the party's push to elect women and court female voters. The RNC hopes to mobilize volunteers to engage women in the 14 weeks leading up to the general election, it said in April when announcing the effort.
The GOP will concentrate on 25 key counties with a large number of independent and “swing” female voters that could affect targeted congressional and gubernatorial races. In Pennsylvania, that includes Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Chester and Montgomery counties.
Republicans historically have lagged behind Democrats in recruiting female candidates for offices in all levels of government, making the party vulnerable to criticism that it is not “in touch” with women.
Though women typically can talk about families and children better than men, Lawless said, she noted that the 2010 elections demonstrated women and men did not vary greatly in terms of traits and issues that mattered to them. Party affiliation can be a bigger predictor, she said.
“We live in a really polarized era now,” Lawless said. “All you need to know about a candidate is whether there is a D or an R in front of their name, not male or female.”
Since the 1992 “Year of the Woman” push by Democrats, the number of women in the 113th Congress has grown to 99 of the 535 seats.
Each party has seven women vying for Senate seats — not just in battleground states but in traditionally Democrat strongholds of West Virginia, Michigan and Oregon.
Like the Capito-Tennant race, the Senate race in Georgia is shaping up to be a seat that could go to a woman — no matter which party wins.
Former Republican Secretary of State Karen Handel is in a three-way primary race for two runoff slots with U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue. The winner will face the Democrats' top recruit, Michelle Nunn, to defend the seat opened by the retirement of GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Last year, few political strategists considered Michigan as a possible gain for Republicans. Yet former GOP Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land has emerged as a front-runner over three-term U.S. Rep. Gary Peters for the seat vacated by retiring Democrat Carl Levin.
Peters has a small edge, but it's a race to watch, said University of Virginia analyst Kyle Kondik.
Joni Ernst is among six Republicans seeking her party's nomination in Iowa to square off with Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley for a seat opened by Democrat Tom Harkin's retirement.
Ernst, a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, has the public backing of the state's lieutenant governor and implied support of Gov. Terry Branstad, making it a toss-up race, Kondik said.
Oregon's Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon, could be a great general election candidate for the Republicans if she avoids the stumbles of a first-time candidate, Kondik said, though Oregon remains a tough state for a Republican to win.
“It is the most Democratic state, with a competitive Senate race this cycle,” he said.
A step forward
The solution for anyone fed up with congressional gridlock is to elect more women, wrote Cornell University doctoral candidate Danielle Thomsen. She used Collins of Maine as an example of someone instrumental in reaching a deal through compromise when she led a bipartisan contingent of 14 senators, six of them women, to help end last fall's two-week government shutdown.
“Since compromise is the linchpin of an effective government in our two-party system, the real answer to improving our democracy is electing more Republican women to Congress,” Thomsen argued.
Thomsen, part of the Harvard University-based Scholars Strategy Network, wrote about Collins based on a brief by political scientists Craig Volden of the University of Virginia and Alan Wiseman of Vanderbilt University, which showed: “Women in the minority party reach across party lines and advance their priorities at a far greater rate than men.”
Symbolism matters, Lawless said.
“Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, you should have an opportunity to vote for somebody of your party who doesn't necessarily look like a 65-year-old white man,” she said, though she thinks that's a message that will take time to resonate.
“A healthy number of strong Republican female candidates (in 2014) is a step in that direction,” she said.
Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Foreign influx in Allegheny County at ‘tipping point’
- 1 intruder killed, other shot and wounded in Carrick home invasion
- Steelers WR Wheaton wants to produce after injury-plagued rookie year
- GM Colbert expects Roethlisberger to end career with Steelers
- Roethlisberger ‘prays’ he can stay with Steelers when deal expires
- Rostraver youth pastor accused of sex assault
- Steelers hope group of low-budget cornerbacks can deliver
- CMU graduates its first class in Rwanda
- Rostraver youth pastor accused of sexual contact with teen girl
- Route 28 motorists to face new traffic configuration starting Wednesday
- Confident rookie quarterback Manziel erratic early with Browns