Female GOP Candidates Make Strides In The Polls
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
From race in journalism to women in politics, the year of the woman sounds so 15 years ago, if you remember the 1992 elections that brought a new wave of women politicians to prominence. But this election season might be seeing another one, particularly for the Republican Party. The GOP has a number of women running for Senate this election season: Carly Fiorina in California -That's also where Meg Whitman is running for governor; Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire; Christine O'Donnell in Delaware; and Sharron Angle, who's battling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for his seat in Nevada.
But as the profile of GOP women has risen in the past few months, so have questions about their approach to the campaign. Last week, for example, New York Times columnist Maureen Down wrote a column calling this the era of the Republican mean girls - a reference to snide remarks and personal attacks heard on the campaign trail, like this one coming from Sharron Angle and her debate with Harry Reid last Thursday.
(Soundbite of debate)
Ms. SHARRON ANGLE (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Nevada): Man up, Harry Reid. You need to understand that we have a problem with Social Security.
MARTIN: Is this a new era in campaigning? Is there something particularly noteworthy about the particular approach these women are taking? We wanted to talk more about this, so we've called Ana Marie Cox. She's the Washington correspondent for GQ magazine. She joins us here in our Washington, D.C., studio.
Also with us is Michelle Caruso-Cabrera. She's the co-anchor of CNBC's "Power Lunch" and the author of the book, "You Know I'm Right." She joins us from CNBC's studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. You know, you stole my title. That should've been my title.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: I don't have a book, but that should've been my title.
Ms. MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA (Co-Anchor, "Power Lunch"): Well, the subtitle is "You Know I'm Right: More Prosperity, Less Government."
MARTIN: I don't care about all that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: So thank you for joining us. So, let's ask, let's take on this question of whether you think that the women in this campaign season, particularly the ones that we've highlighted here, are taking campaign dialogue to a new low - or is there something particularly noteworthy about the kind of dialogue they're having on the campaign trail?
Ms. ANA MARIE COX (Washington Correspondent, GQ): I'm not sure if there's something particularly - well, it is noteworthy, let's just - we wouldn't be talking about it if it wasn't noteworthy. I think what's interesting about the kind of language they're using is, it's really hard to imagine the women of a generation past, Democrat or Republican, using that kind of language.
Hillary Clinton, Blanche Lincoln, Olympia Snowe - it's very hard to imagine them speaking in that kind of - I think the only way I can describe it is catty. And I wonder if it has to do with the increased, sort of - in almost every other way, increased femininity among these candidates.
I think Sarah Palin did set a role - did sort of play a role model in this regard, with the stiletto boots and the kind of like, sexy librarian kind of look. There's something about that feminization, and that kind of sexuality, that allows these women to make these kinds of remarks in a way that the sort of sober and subdued grandmotherly or aunt type couldn't.
MARTIN: Michelle, what do you think? Catty?
Ms. CARUSO-CABRERA: No, not at all. I don't think it's a new low at all. I think men in politics have a long history of being coarse when they're on the campaign trail, and I don't think we should be shocked that when women get out on the campaign trail, that they might do the same thing - at all.
And there's a long history. I mean, Hamilton and Jefferson both funded newspapers, and wrote nasty things anonymously about each other while in power. It's been going on forever.
MARTIN: That's true. And they paid people to say nasty things.
Ms. COX: I would say - I don't think this is a new - when I say it's -I'm agreeing that it's notable. I don't think - it's not new dialogue on the campaign trail; I totally agree.
MARTIN: But it's notable because you think it marks a new chapter in the way women are campaigning.
Ms. COX: Yeah. I mean, I would challenge people to come up with the same kind of speech coming from women. I think also in the past, women running for office have just shied away, in general, from going on the attack or slinging mud. It's something that is more - it has been, in the past, something that could backfire for women in a way that it didn't backfire from men. Men sort of were...
MARTIN: But talk about that, Michelle...
Ms. CARUSO-CABRERA: But now, they want to really win.
MARTIN: Well, I'm sorry, I think Hillary Clinton won a few elections. But I do have to ask about the whole backlash aspect of it because whether it's, you know, fair or unfair, one of the attributes that people have attributed to women candidates is more integrity - you know, more interest in substance as opposed to sort of crass politics - that kind of thing.
Ms. CARUSO-CABRERO: Well, obviously, that's the difference.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: No, but I'm curious, though, whether that - violating that expectation could have a backlash. Obviously, we'll find out on Election Day whether, you know, what these theories are. But Michelle, what's your take on that?
Ms. CARUSO-CABRERO: You know, I went to a women's college. I went to Wellesley. I went to Hillary Clinton's alma mater. And this was an endless topic of conversation. If there were more women in the business world, if there were more women in politics or running the world, would the world be a nicer place? Or once women are in these positions, will they take on all those trappings of power, and do all the same things? And I think we're seeing that play out.
And I think that the electorate, in general, when somebody is running for office, and especially in times when the economy is weak, they want somebody who looks like a take-charge person. And so I think they're taking on these personas. Or maybe the people who are rising to these positions had those personas anyway, and are fulfilling those expectations of the electorate.
MARTIN: Let's talk about gaffes. People make them. You know, Christine O'Donnell is somebody who, of course, has gotten a lot of attention -positively and negatively, depending on, you know, sort of your perspective. This is a comment she made during a debate on Tuesday, if we can play that. Here it is.
Ms. CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (Republican Senate Candidate, Delaware): Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: And you hear gasps and chuckles. I wasn't there, so I don't know who's gasping and who's chuckling. This is being reported as a gasp - and she has, of course, subsequently said, well, the actual words don't appear. That was kind of the point that she was making. But you can see that there are a lot of people who feel that she just doesn't get it. She does not get it. And I do wonder, Ana Marie, do you think that this is a particular issue because she's a woman? Or if she were a man, would people similarly receive her remarks?
Ms. COX: I think there are interesting aspects of the Christine O'Donnell candidacy that probably do have to do with her being a woman. And we could talk about those. I don't think that this particular topic - her knowledge of the First Amendment - is one of them. I think that her statement, and the reaction to her statement, would be something we'd be talking about if she was a man.
And I do want to say, like, I think it's a Rorschach test for people who are interested in politics as to whether or not they consider that a gaffe, because she was, in the literal sense, she was correct that the words separation of church and state do not appear in the First Amendment.
There is a very strong legal argument that that is the intent of the First Amendment. And I think that people who were watching that debate, it really depended what they already believed.
MARTIN: Interesting. Interesting. I see your point. Michelle, what do you think? What's your take on that?
Ms. CARUSO-CABRERO: Well, yeah, absolutely. Factually, she was correct, but that - it's the side point, which was the spirit of the question is: Do you believe that there should be a separation of church and state? And this really speaks to, I think, what some people have a concern with about aspects of the Tea Party. You know, you can divide the Tea Party up. There's this kind of arch-Libertarian arm, and then there's another part which wants to focus a lot on social values.
And so I think that there are some who are concerned that that social-values aspect of the party, perhaps, means that you have less of a belief in the separation of church and state. In the end, people want to know: How do you feel about that?
MARTIN: Interesting. The final point - Ana Marie, I'm sorry, I'm going to have to just give you this question. One more candidate has not gotten as much attention: Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire. She's a front-runner in the race, but has not gotten as much attention, I believe, as O'Donnell and Angle. Why is that?
Ms. COX: She's not said as crazy things. Actually, she's - New Hampshire generates a lot of really solid Republican candidates, who wind up being leaders. And I think that that - she is going to wind up being a leader for the Republicans. She's attractive. She's well-spoken. She's going to win the race. And I think we're going to be hearing a lot more from her.
Ms. CARUSO-CABRERO: And full disclosure: I went to high school with her, because I grew up in New Hampshire. Very libertarian state, by the way.
Ms. COX: Yes.
MARTIN: I went to high school in New Hampshire, too.
Ms. CARUSO-CABRERO: Nashua High School.
MARTIN: How come you didn't say hi to me?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. COX: She was a mean girl.
Ms. CARUSO-CABRERO: I went to Nashua High.
MARTIN: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera is co-anchor of CNBC's "Power Lunch" and author of the book, "You Know I'm Right." She joined us from CNBC studios in New Jersey.
Ana Marie Cox is Washington correspondent for GQ magazine. She was here with us in our Washington, D.C., studio. Thank you both so much.
Ms. COX: Thank you.
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