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Representation of Women in the Primaries

by Reshma Patil // Published June 10, 2010

The GOP, The Grand Old Party, could be referred to as the men’s club.  But women are slowly making their way into GOP ranks this primary season.  Anne Kornblut from The Washington Post addresses this issue in an article entitled “In primaries, female candidates didn’t make gender an issue.” A number of Republican women ran well in the June 8 primaries, and several won their nominations or are favored in upcoming runoffs.  This represents a growing trend of increasing numbers of women running for congressional and statewide offices – with a significant increase in Republican women.  

Some key candidates that garnered attention by making strong showings in statewide primaries on June 8 are: Sharron Angle (Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Nevada); Carly Fiorina (Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in California); Nikki Haley (who won more than twice the share of the votes of any of her competitors in the race for the Republican nomination for governor in South Carolina, but fell just short of avoiding a runoff); Blanche Lincoln (who surprised many with her victory in a runoff for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Arkansas); and Meg Whitman (who trounced her competition for the Republican nomination for governor of California).  These candidates strived not to make gender a focal point of their respective campaigns.  Rather, they aimed to project themselves as strong, hard-working, and independent candidates.  Even in the face of controversy and pointed accusations, they did not cry out “sexism!” or declare themselves as victims.  

This is especially true of Nikki Haley, a state representative running in South Carolina’s Republican primary for governor.  She had claims of infidelity thrown against her, which she calmly but steadfastly denied.   If Haley is able to clinch the Republican nomination in the June 22 runoff election and eventually become governor in November, she will not only be the first female governor of South Carolina but also the first to be of a racial minority (she is Indian-American) – a possible victory that is all the more notable in that the South Carolina state senate is the only state legislative chamber in the U.S. without any women.  Keep in mind, however, that Haley herself would not draw attention to the possibility of two “firsts”; she would rather draw attention to “ ‘South Carolina . . . moving forward for reform.’ ”

In California there were 51 female candidates for congressional and statewide offices (Election 2010: Women Candidates). Of these 15 are Republicans and 31 are Democrats.  Meg Whitman, a former eBay CEO, clinched the Republican nomination for California governor and will run against Attorney General Jerry Brown for the office.  Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, clinched the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat and will run against incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer for her seat.  Although Fiorina and Whitman won handily in the primaries (Fiorina: 56.4%, Whitman: 64.1%), they both face a challenging general election.  This is because they stuck to the hard right on major issues such as immigration, making them general election underdogs.  If either candidate wins her respective general election, it will mark the first time since 1970 that California has elected a Republican woman in a statewide contest

In the 2010 Governor races, there have been 21 major party women candidates in the 36 states with gubernatorial races.  In the U.S. House, there have been 196 major party women candidates.  In the U.S. Senate, there have been 21 major party women candidates in the 36 states with senate races.

Although I commend these candidates for not using their gender to gain votes and garner attention, I believe that it is important to recognize and acknowledge the strides that women in politics are making.  The issues and a candidate’s character should take center stage, but one should not ignore the historical significance of women in congressional and statewide offices.