Mama Bear: How Sarah Palin Has Inspired an Army of Republican Women to Run for Office

By Gay, Malcolm | The Washington Monthly, July-August 2010 | Go to article overview

Mama Bear: How Sarah Palin Has Inspired an Army of Republican Women to Run for Office


Gay, Malcolm, The Washington Monthly


Speaking last May at the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin described what she saw as a new breed of feminist, the kind who takes her cue from the likes of Annie Oakley--a woman, as Palin would have it, who can shoot a gun, push a plough, and raise a family all at once. "It seems like it's kind of a room awakening," she told the crowd. "The mama grizzlies, they rear up, and if you thought pit bulls were tough, well, you don't want to mess with the mama grizzlies ... and that's what we're seeing with all these women who are banding together, rising up, saying, 'No, this isn't right for our kids .'" Dressed in a black suit and sporting a jewel-studded cross around her neck, Palin predicted 2010 would be the year conservative women stormed Congress. "Look out, Washington!" she warned. "Because there's a whole stampede of pink elephants crossing the line, stampeding through! And the ETA is November 2, 2010."

The menagerie of metaphors notwithstanding, Palin had a point. By early dune-with seventeen states yet to have reached their filing deadlines--Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics reported that there were already 239 female candidates running for Congress, a figure that nearly rivals 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman, when a record 251 women ran for office. But whereas in 1992 Democrats outpaced Republicans by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1, by June of this year a record 108 Republican women were running for office, nearly equaling their 131 Democratic opponents.

"The numbers are really being driven by Republican women," said Gilda Morales, data maven for the Rutgers center. "These are huge numbers."

For many of the candidates, Sarah Palin has been an inspiration. They see in Palin not only a charismatic woman scorned by the mainstream media, but also a politician with an unlikely resume who provides a blueprint for their own political aspirations.

"She's just courageous--she's courageous and brave. She steps out there and speaks about issues that are close to her heart. It's very inspiring to watch," says Beth Anne Rankin, a music teacher and former Miss Arkansas now running against Rep. Mike Ross, Democrat from Arkansas, in the state's Fourth District. "Sarah Palin has brought such an electricity to the political landscape. She's invigorated millions of people."

Patricia Sullivan, a homemaker and first-time candidate vying for a shot in Florida's Eighth District, feels similarly. Reinforcing Palin's grizzly bear comparison, Sullivan says she entered the race "out of an innate sense of wanting to protect my cubs.

"There's something called women's intuition," explains Sullivan, whose scant political resume includes helping to organize her local Tea Party. "Sarah Palin has put a face on the conservative woman--who's able to raise a family and also offer the good qualities that a woman can bring to the table."

Common to all of these new candidates are some hard-right beliefs. They oppose the stimulus package, auto bailouts, abortion rights, and health care reform. Many think that prayer belongs in schools, that President Obama is a socialist, and that Arizona officials have the right to demand citizenship papers from those deemed suspicious. They generally feel that Democrats have governed the country into a state of moral and economic putrefaction--and they love Sarah Palin. …

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