A Super Tuesday For Women Nationwide

Going into Tuesday's primaries, we talked constantly about a continuation of the anti-establishment and anti-incumbent theme we saw a couple of weeks ago in Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

That's not to say yesterday was a great day for incumbents.  GOP Rep. Bob Inglis managed just 28 percent in his bid for renomination in South Carolina's 4th District, though he received enough votes to advance to a June 22 runoff.  And Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons got clobbered in the Republican primary, the first governor of his state, I believe, to ever lose a bid for renomination.  But hounded by miserable job approval numbers and a very public (and very ugly) divorce, Gibbons was politically dead well before Tuesday.

Actually, the one incumbent everyone was watching was in Arkansas, where two-term Sen. Blanche Lincoln was thought to be in mortal danger in a runoff against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.  The left, and labor unions, went all out to defeat her, mostly over a centrist voting record that included abandonment of the public option in the health care bill and her opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act ("card check"), a cause dear to labor's heart.

Blanche Lincoln

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., celebrates her win in Tuesday's runoff election. Danny Johnston/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Danny Johnston/AP

When Lincoln barely finished ahead of Halter in the May 18 primary — by just two points — and when the SEIU, among other unions, announced they would increase their efforts to defeat her in the runoff — many people thought Lincoln was finished.  Estimates of what labor spent to defeat her ranged between five and ten million dollars.

But she survived.  Credit the visit from Bill Clinton, Arkansas' favorite son.  Or maybe credit a tough TV ad that touted her independence from the unions and the progressive left.  She knew that if she allowed Halter to force her to the left — and she won — there would be hell to pay in November against GOP Rep. John Boozman.

She still has her work cut out for her if she's to return to the Senate.

If there's any theme that came out of yesterday, it was not a Bad Day For Incumbents.  It was, instead, a Super Tuesday For Women.

Republican women were nominated in the nation's largest state — California — for both governor and the Senate, the latter contest against another woman, three-term Democrat Barbara Boxer.  If Lincoln's experience helped her in Arkansas, it was the business credentials, and personal fortune, that aided first-time candidates Meg Whitman (gov.) and Carly Fiorina (sen.) in the Golden State.  Whitman, in fact, spent some $80 million — at least $71 million out of her own pocket — for the right to square off in November against Jerry Brown (D), a former two-term governor hoping to win back his old job.

And while, in Iowa, Roxanne Conlin has been around for a long time — she ran for governor 28 years ago and lost to Republican Terry Branstad — she is a mere pup compared to Sen. Charles Grassley (R), first elected to the Senate in 1980 and whose political career in the state legislature began in the 1950s.

Iowa has never elected a woman to either the House or Senate.

What the GOP likes about Fiorina and Whitman, and what Democrats like about Conlin, is their anti-establishment credentials — at least when it comes to the political arena.  But other women who came out on top yesterday had fuller political resumes.

Sharron Angle, a former assemblywoman, won the GOP nomination in Nevada, won the right to take on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  Angle's victory, an unlikely event not long ago, was good news for Tea Party supporters, who backed her against the establishment choice, and still another woman, Sue Lowden.

Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle rejoices in Nevada. Isaac Brekken/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Isaac Brekken/AP

State Rep. Nikki Haley, another Tea Party favorite, came teasingly close to winning the Republican gubernatorial primary outright in South Carolina, despite allegations from two men that she had engaged in an "inappropriate physical relationship" with them.  The married Haley, who completely denied the charges, fell just short of a majority and will advance to a June 22 runoff with U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett.  Haley had the strong support of Sarah Palin and former Palmetto State First Lady Jenny Sanford, as well as the dubious distinction of getting a character boost from Gov. Mark Sanford, who was term limited and whose own sex scandal ended his aspirations for higher office.

Elizabeth "Libby" Mitchell, the State Senate Majority Leader in Maine, won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination there.  Her party's nominee for the U.S. Senate back in 1984 (when she lost to Bill Cohen), Mitchell has served 12 terms in the state Legislature.

Speaking of 1984, that was once known as the Year of the Woman ... partly because Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to appear on a major party presidential ticket, but also because of the large number of women nominated that year to run for the Senate, including challengers in Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and the aforementioned Maine.  But all were defeated in November.

But this year, for an assortment of reasons, many have shots at winning in the fall.  The electorate is angry and frustrated and tired of politics as usual.  That could well be advantageous to the large number of female candidates running this year.

Speaking of angry and frustrated, it was a good night for the Tea Party as well.  They rallied behind Angle in Nevada back when she was just an asterisk, and she won an improbable victory with a late surge.  Polls all year have shown Reid losing to basically any Republican who ran against him.  But Angle has  some controversial positions — such as phasing out Social Security — that Democrats say are way out of the mainstream.  Both parties will obviously try to make the race a referendum on the other.

The Tea Party also scored victories in the special congressional election in Georgia's 9th District, vacated by Nathan Deal, who is running for governor.  In that contest, former state representative Tom Graves, defeated a fellow Republican conservative and will serve out the remainder of Deal's term.

And in Maine, businessman Paul LePage, a Tea Party favorite, won the GOP gubernatorial nomination in an upset over six opponents.

One more thought about the so-called "anti-incumbent" trend.  Yes, some incumbents have gone down to defeat this year, such as Sens. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Bob Bennett (R-UT), and Reps. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) and Parker Griffith (R-AL).  But their rejections can't be lumped as part of a simple "throw the bums out" mood.  Specter and Griffith switched parties and never convinced their new brethren they deserved another term.  Mollohan had ethics problems.  And Bennett's defeat, while blamed on some unpopular votes that angered the right, is perhaps better explained by Utah's unique convention system; had he run in a regular primary, with an expanded electorate, he may have won.

That's not to say there's no dissatisfaction out there.  Or that other incumbents, such as Arizona Sen. John McCain, can breathe easy.  Each seems to be a special case.

Still, for now, the theme seems to be Tuesday's victories for female candidates.

A personal note:  I remember, back on September 9, 1986, I did my first radio piece for ABC News in which I talked about that day being a "Super Tuesday for women."  Women had won the Senate nomination for the Senate in Maryland from both parties (Democrat Barbara Mikulski and Republican Linda Chavez) that day, only the second time that happened in history.  Kathleen Kennedy Townsend won the Democratic nod to square off against GOP Rep. Helen BentleyCarolyn Warner (D) won her party's primary for governor of Arizona, and the same was true with Republican Julie Belaga in Connecticut.

Twenty-four years later, I still remember that day, and that piece.

This year's "Super Tuesday" seems far more impressive.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.