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Christine O'Donnell and the Republican long game

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The chattering classes are simply enraptured with the story of Christine O’Donnell beating out Republican establishment Mike Castle in Delaware, trying madly to figure out what it all means. Most of the discussion focuses on how O’Donnell is a tea party candidate who was endorsed by Sarah Palin and how her nomination over Castle is tearing the GOP apart while Democratic nominee Chris Coons preps to sail to an easy victory.

All of those stories are, of course, feasible angles. But they all miss the larger and much longer term movement afoot in the GOP: the ascendancy of prominent women within the Party’s ranks and the public’s mind.

It was just over a year ago that Erika Lovely opined on the pages of Politico that Republican women were, “a minority of a minority.”

“Women make up almost 51 percent of the U.S. population but less than 10 percent of the House and Senate GOP — a gender disconnect that could make the Republicans’ climb back to power even steeper than it would be otherwise.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) notices that she’s part of a shrinking minority every time she heads to the Senate floor for a vote.

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Republican women in the House say they feel the problem — literally — when their male colleagues nudge them to the front of GOP press conferences to break up the solid lines of middle-aged white men in neckties.”

And around that same time, Gallup noted the “steep uphill climb,” that the GOP faced among women.

“The current results for women are typical of what Gallup has found over the past year, with roughly 4 in 10 identifying themselves as Democrats. The Democratic Party has held an advantage among women in Gallup polling throughout this decade, with support usually in the high 30% range. The current 41% female Democratic identification matches the high achieved several times since 2000.”

Well, a lot has changed in just over a year. And while 2010 as the year of the Republican woman might not be the sole or even most prominent driver behind that change, it certainly doesn’t hurt the future of the GOP. From the rise of Sarah Palin, to the high profile campaigns of Sharon Angle, Carly Fiorina, Nikki Haley, Martha Roby, and Renee Ellmers, along with increasing influence of women like Michelle Bachmann, the Republican Party is rapidly becoming as notable for its outspoken women as its men.

And that is a very important shift for Republicans.

It certainly might be true that nominees like O’Donnell don’t stand to substantially benefit Republicans’ chances at taking control of the House and improving their standing in the Senate in November. But over the long term, there is a larger demographic stake at play, here. Another poll by Gallup at that same time last year demonstrated just how strongly demographics were playing against the long term viability of the Republican party. Check it out, there are some pretty startling numbers in there.

Again, an increase in female representation in the Party isn’t the key to this issue. But it isn’t inconsequential, either.

I mean, look, Christine O’Donnell isn’t a politician I would ever be inclined to support. But one also has to recognize how she and other female candidates who might not win in November are contributing to the alleviation a crippling demographic problem facing Republicans without having to be obviously parachuted into their respective races.

So instead of simply moaning about the shorter term impacts of O’Donnell’s win, establishment Republicans would do well get some perspective by reminding themselves of their longer term challenges and leave the moaning to Democrats for the time being.

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