2010: The year when Democratic women lost and were replaced by Republican women in Congress

Last night, eager to hear the latest on what was happening with Keith Olbermann, I made the mistake of watching Countdown with his dull replacement. Unfortunately, I flipped the channel and missed the important part (could only take so much), but I flipped back to MSNBC in time to catch an entire segment of Rachel Maddow's show on how women fared in this year's election. She asserted that 2010 was not the year of the Republican or conservative woman, and I expected to see some election results to back it up.

Instead, I saw a very long segment (about six minutes) which included little research, no data on voters' opinions or attitudes (based on exit polling, for example), and few facts. It was both deeply uninformative and misleading.

Despite a few high-profile cases, 2010 was a year when  Democratic women lost elections and Republican women won them. The numbers are there to tell the story, but you wouldn't know it from watching Maddow's segment. The low point in the segment came when Slate's Amanda Marcotte speculated on the voters' motives, relying on…no facts at all, just her own opinions, apparently. Marcotte speculated that Sarah Palin's talk of “Mama Grizzlies” turned off voters. She speculated that the contradiction of being “anti-feminist in your views and your policies…but somehow still feminist in having ambition” turned off voters.

Surely, bad candidates (like Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell) turned off voters. But was it because they were anti-feminist, or because they were bad candidates? And why is it that every single female congressional incumbent who lost this year was a feminist Democrat? Do Marcotte's explanations make any sense in that context?

Maddow's segment contained at least one real fact: There will be no growth in the number of women in Congress next year. She didn't bother to include the numbers, but here they are: At this moment, there are 77 women in the House of Representatives (60 Democrats, 17 Republicans), including non-voting delegates from the territories and D.C. In the new House, there will be between 75 and 77 women, pending two late two outcomes. (Based on the current vote totals, the number will be 76.) In the Senate, there are 17 women. The election produced no net change, assuming that Lisa Murkowski wins in Alaska. That's where Maddow left it, debunking the idea that 2010 was “The Year of the Republican Woman.”

Ah, but then there are the facts: the female GOP caucus will grow by more than 40 percent in the House, and Republicans added one woman to their caucus in the Senate.

The 111th House included:

  • 60 Democratic women. Ten lost on Tuesday (assuming that the margin holds in IL-8), one lost her primary, and one retired. Four new Democratic women were elected to the House on Tuesday, for a NET LOSS OF 8.
  • 17 Republican women. Two of them retired, with one going on to run for (and win) Oklahoma's governorship. Nine new Republican women were elected, for a NET GAIN OF 7, (assuming the margin holds in in NY-25).

In the Senate, Democrats lost one woman (Blanche Lincoln) and Republicans gained one (Kelly Ayotte) — again, assuming that Murkowski wins.

As for governorships, there will be three new Republican female governors — a net gain of one (Linda Lingle and Jodie Rell are retiring) — and zero new female Democratic governors, for a net loss of one (Jennifer Granholm is retiring).

Perhaps the question Maddow and Marcotte should have discussed is why Democrats didn't field more serious Senate and gubernatorial candidates. Or the fact that women actually voted for Republicans on Tuesday, 49-48%, according to the exit polling. That would have required actually looking some things up, but it would have also made for much better television.

On the abortion issue, into which Maddow and Marcotte delved at the end of their segment, the story is even bigger. Only 151 of the 435 incoming members of the 112th House of Representatives received the endorsement of Planned Parenthood for being consistently in favor of abortion on demand. According to the Republican National Coalition for Life, 38 solid pro-lifers defeated consistent abortion proponents in the House, and the net number of pro-life upgrades was somewhere above 50. There are also six more pro-life Senators than there were before, including one Democrat (Joe Manchin). Republicans also elected three new pro-life female governors.

You wouldn't know any of that from watching Marcotte's and Maddow's discussion of women, the election, and “reproductive rights,” but 2010 was, in fact, a pretty good year for conservative and Republican women.

Here is the entire segment. Again, note what is missing: Facts, numbers, exit polling, data. But plenty of vague, ungrounded and wishful speculation about voters' motivations:

Here's the transcript:

MADDOW: Year of the woman. Year of the Republican woman. Year of the conservative Republican woman. This was one of the favored and exciting means in political coverage this year before the elections. Then the elections actually happened and now you're not hearing quite so much coverage, are you, about that whole conservative women surge thing? Because this upcoming congress, the one we just elected, the 112th congress scheduled to meet on January 3rd, 2011, it will be the first congress in 30 years to not have more women in it than the one that came before. The first in 30 years. Depending on how the Senate race in Alaska turns out and a few still to be decided races in house there will be as many or fewer women in congress next year than there were this year. That has not been the case in a generation.

It is true there were a ton of high profile Republican women in particular running for congress and governor this year. They got a lot of media attention. And all of them lost. Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Linda McMahon, Kelly Ayotte and Nikki Haley won in their races but that's it. What in the name happened here? How did this, the year of the woman after all, how did this end up being one of the worst elections in a generation for women running for office? Joining us now is Amanda, contributor writer for Slates “double-X.” Thanks very much for your time.

MARCOTTE: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: What happened? How did this end up being one of the worst elections in a generation for women running for office?

MARCOTTE: Well, it's kind of interesting because you would think that with the Republican women running and Republicans winning so many seats Republican women would have just done better by riding on the coattails. I actually think this mama grizzly narrative hurt them in a way because it was about creating an idea where you could both be anti-feminist in your views and your policies and your ideas and even your demeanor, but somehow still feminist in having ambition. I think that kind of contradiction didn't sit well with some segments of the public.

MADDOW: In terms of not just women candidates but women voters, is that sort of discomforting relationship between women's ambition and women's anti-feminist case to voters? did it play differently among male and female voters?

MARCOTTE: I think so. Both female and male voters are generally more attract to policy ideas than somebody's gender. You saw the similar spread in male and female votes between female Republicans and male Republicans which is to say on average 5% to 6% more men, percentage points more men voted for the Republican than women did. Women rarely voted majority in most states for the female Republican candidate.

MADDOW: Okay. I mean, I guess the thing that is — the thing that is so often assumed about female candidates is that they attract female voters. And we saw in the presidential race in 2008 that the — putting a woman as the Republican vice presidential candidate in Sarah Palin did not result in that Republican ticket doing better among women voters. in fact, they did significantly worse among women voters than the all-male tickets in previous elections that had them. the common wisdom about why john McCain picked Sarah Palin is she would be offering competition for female voters who might have otherwise been attracted to Hillary Clinton's candidacy. How does that turn that political common wisdom on its head? What's the new common wisdom now?

MARCOTTE: I certainly hope the new common wisdom is women as voters are not that stupid. and aren't going to fall for that trick. I mean, I think in a lot of times female voters, especially more liberal leaning ones, see that as insulting. As if we're just going to see a woman in a skirt and just go, I wear skirts, too, so I'm going to vote for her. It doesn't work that way. We're going to notice things like one's stance on reproductive rights or safety net or the economy or the war.

MADDOW: Are there issues like reproductive rights that stand out as issues that particularly attracted interest or votes of female voters? There were a number of top of the ticket Republican candidates who had very, very extreme antiabortion views. If Joe miller, depending on what happens with Joe Miller, four of the five candidates other than Rand Paul being the one, the standout, who believed in banning abortion including no exemptions for rape or incest. They all lost. Do reproductive rights predict voting behavior or, I guess, the attraction of women candidates at this point?

MARCOTTE: I think to a degree. Reproductive rights becomes a bigger issue if it can be connected to other larger issues. I think that the average voter when they hear pro-life doesn't necessarily think about what that means. Somebody like Sharron Angle was caught on record saying really unsympathetic and ungenerous things about women who need abortions and that kind of thing, that lack of generosity, I think, more comes across to the voters than maybe just a sort of dry I'm “pro- life” stance.

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