Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Women voters likely power players in fall elections -- again -- July 23, 2014 column


Today’s question: Would we be better off if more women held political office?

Yes, say nearly two in three Americans, a Gallup poll reported Monday.

The question was, “Do you think the country would be governed better or worse if more women were in political office?” Sixty-three percent of Americans said better -- a jump from 57 percent in 1995 and 2000. The trend bodes well for women candidates in this fall’s congressional elections.  

While the number of women serving in Congress has been inching up – to a record 79 in the 435-member House and 20 in the 100-member Senate – women are still just 18.5 percent of the Congress. In the House, 60 women are Democrats and 19 are Republicans. In the Senate, there are 16 Ds and four Rs.

Gallup didn’t ask why people thought women would do better, but perhaps a Grateful Dead song has the answer: “That’s right, the women are smarter.”

In any case, women vote. Women were the majority of voters in 2012 and largely decided to keep President Barack Obama in the White House and continue Democratic control of the Senate, according to analyses of exit polls by the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers.

Fifty-five percent of women voted for Obama, compared with 52 percent of men. Women’s votes also elected seven Senate Democrats: Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Tim Kaine in Virginia, Jon Tester in Montana and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, the center’s analysis found.

Women don’t always vote for woman candidates, of course. In the Senate race in Connecticut, men split their votes evenly between Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Linda McMahon, while “women showed a clear and decisive preference for Murphy,” who won, the center said.

This time around, with continued Democratic control of the Senate increasingly in doubt, Democrats are pinning their hopes on Michelle Nunn to flip the red-state Georgia seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

Democrat Nunn, daughter of popular former Sen. Sam Nunn, is running against Republican businessman David Perdue, former CEO of Reebok and other firms. Perdue beat Rep. Jack Kingston, a 22-year House veteran, Tuesday in a GOP runoff election.

Neither Nunn nor Perdue has elective experience – and that may be a plus. Forty-nine percent of Americans told Gallup the country would be governed better by newcomers to office.

If the Georgia race is pivotal and close, we might have to wait to learn which party will control the Senate. If neither candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote Nov. 4, there will be a runoff Dec. 2.

Nunn is one of six women candidates running for open seats in five states. West Virginia is poised to make state history by electing its first woman senator. The election is between Democrat Natalie Tennant and Republican Shelley Moore Capito. 

Four states have never sent a woman to the House or Senate: Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi and Vermont. But that could change. In Iowa, tea party favorite Joni Ernst, a Republican, is in a tight race with Democrat Bruce Braley.  

Two of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents are Democratic women, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Political prognosticators rate both races tossups.

In another high-profile race, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is working to keep his seat representing Kentucky from Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state.

Whether a general inclination to support more women in office translates into votes depends on how individual candidates sell themselves and on the local dynamics of each race.

In 2012, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., dropped her presidential bid after eking out just 5 percent of the Iowa caucus vote. She’s retiring from the House but said this week she might run for president again in 2016. 

 “Like with anything else, practice makes perfect,” she said in an interview with Real Clear Politics, adding that she had participated in 15 presidential debates.

No, unlike learning the piano, for instance, practice doesn’t make perfect in politics. On that men and women voters agree.

Still, if you’re looking for clues about the elections this fall, it makes sense to watch the women.  

© 2014 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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