November 8, 2012 — Female congressional candidates, and Democratic women in particular, made historic gains in Tuesday's election, which some argue is the result of a Republican agenda that drove female voters away from conservative candidates, Politico reports.
Five women -- including four Democrats -- gained seats in the Senate, meaning that women will now hold one out of every five seats in the chamber. A record 78 women will serve in the House when the 113th Congress begins in January (Nocera, Politico, 11/7). While the House Republican Caucus will have fewer women in the next Congress, Democrats are adding women to their rolls.
Reasons for Democratic Gains
Some Republicans acknowledged that the party's heavy focus on social issues that affect women -- including abortion rights, contraceptive coverage and funding for Planned Parenthood -- hurt their chances among female voters.
John Weaver, a senior Republican strategist, said the GOP was not successful in disassociating itself from controversial comments about abortion by Senate candidates Rep. Todd Akin (Mo.) and Richard Mourdock (Ind.). Their comments "did not seem like outliers," Weaver said, adding, "They seemed representative of our party." Some Republicans said the comments had an effect on voters because Democrats worked hard to capitalize on the controversy and depict the GOP as insensitive to women.
In addition to threats to their reproductive rights, women were deterred from voting for conservative candidates because of the Republican Party's stance on other social issues, including immigration, health care and equal pay, Weaver said. "We need to be changing our tone, to be standing for something and not just against things," he said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) agreed that the party needs to shift its message. "It has never made sense that my party, the party of individual freedom and personal responsibility, thinks the government should be involved in issues" like abortion, she added (Steinhauer, New York Times, 11/7).
Issues More Important Than Candidates' Gender
Another message from the election results is that a candidate's gender is itself not a significant factor in determining a race's outcome, according to the Washington Post. More women are running for office in general, and congressional diversity is increasing in other ways beyond gender, especially on the Democratic side, the Post notes. The 200 House Democrats in the next Congress will include 61 women, 43 blacks, 27 Hispanics and 10 Asian Americans. For the first time, white males will be the minority in the Democratic caucus, according to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (Calif.) office (Tumulty, Washington Post, 11/7).
Further, female voters turned away from female Republican candidates in some cases. In the Connecticut Senate race, Rep. Christopher Murphy's (D) victory was bolstered by support from 60% of female voters, compared with challenger Linda McMahon's (R) 39%. Male voters were evenly split among the candidates (New York Times, 11/17).