Electable GOP Females Lag Democratic Counterparts

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While there were a record number of Republican female candidates this year, many were defeated in their primaries. Democratic women outnumber Republican women among general election candidates, but Democratic women are likely to lose seats because of the anti-incumbency mood. Debbie Walsh, director of Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, talks to Mary Louise Kelly about how female candidates are faring this election.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

A lot of people thought this was going to be the year of the Republican woman. That's turned out not to be the case. A record number of non-incumbent Republican women did run in this year's primaries, but most of them ended up losing.

To discuss what this means for Republican women and their Democratic counterparts, we've reached out to Debbie Walsh. She's at Rutgers University, where she directs the Center for American Women and Politics.

And Debbie Walsh, I don't want to paint too bleak a picture here because there are, of course, Republican women still competing in very high profile races. You could point to Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada, Carly Fiorina in California. But as you look at a group like that, is their success atypical for Republican women this year?

Ms. DEBBIE WALSH (Director, Center for American Women and Politics): Well, we know that over time Republican women have not done as well getting elected to office. Right now Democratic women outnumber the Republican women who currently serve in Congress. But this year we did see an awful lot of excitement, particularly back in the spring, when we were watching what was happening for the number of women who were filing to run for the House and for the Senate. And in fact at the House level we did have a really record-shattering number of women who filed on the Republican side.

What we did see, however, at the end of the day, was the Democratic women who were the non-incumbents won 46 percent of their primaries, whereas the Republican non-incumbent women who were running for House seats only won 28 percent of their primaries.

So we've ended up with a very unremarkable non-record year when it comes to women running in either party.

KELLY: And why is that, that Republican women in particular didn't seem to make it past the primary?

Ms. WALSH: Well, I think that one of the things that we have found over time is that Republican women tend to be more moderate than their male counterparts. What happens in a Republican primary is you get the most conservative voters coming out to vote, and it makes it tougher for those Republican women to make it through the primaries.

Now, we have acknowledge the fact that there are some really marquee races out there right now, with Republican women running in them, many of them quite conservative, who did make it through those primaries, and I think that it is in fact some of those marquee races which mask this reality that we really dont have record numbers of women who are running this time around.

KELLY: One interesting theme that runs through several of these campaigns is Republican women who entered politics from the business world. We mention Carly Fiorina. You could look at Meg Whitman. Do you see any sort of trend emerging there in terms of the way that women candidates are coming to politics?

Ms. WALSH: I think that that's really one of the interesting stories of this election cycle, and we will see come next week how those woman fare. But that's a path to politics that men have been taking over the last number of years, but it's really a new path for women, not the tradition work your way up through the system, run for the state legislature, then run for the House, and then move your way up to the Senate or possibly a state-wide elected position.

KELLY: You know, as we're talking, there's a question lurking in the back of my mind, and I guess it's this: When do we get to stop talking about conceits like the Year of the Woman? I mean, when do get past that and just start talking about these as candidates like anyone else?

Ms. WALSH: Well, I think that one of the things that the visibility of the women who are running now, the visibility of some women who are in office, it does, again, mask the reality of what our numbers are. There are - only 17 percent of all of the members of Congress right now are women.

KELLY: Seventeen percent?

Ms. WALSH: Seventeen percent. Less than a quarter of all state legislatures around the country are women. Only six women currently serve as governor. So there is still a very long way to go when we think about balance.

So back in 1992, when we had 24 new women elected to Congress that cycle, the largest number of new women elected in any one cycle at the Congressional level, we managed to get to 10 percent of all of Congress being female.

So these years of the women that keep happening every couple of years, it really doesn't take us very far, and there's still quite a long way to go before we get to political parity for women.

KELLY: Well, Debbie Walsh, thanks very much.

Ms. WALSH: Thank you.

KELLY: That's Debbie Walsh. She's director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

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