The War on Women Backfires

Article excerpt

Byline: Michelle Goldberg; Signer

Republicans thought they could get away with endless attacks on the fairer sex. They couldn't have been more wrong.

In the days leading up to the election, conserva tive pundits seemed con fident that Democrats had overplayed the idea of a Republican "war on women"--and equally confident that women would not turn in fury against the GOP when Election Day came. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, noted interpreter of the fe male soul, wrote that Obama's "paternal istic pitch assumes that ... Democrats-- especially male Democrats--win when they run as protectors of the sexual revo lution, standing between their female constituents and the Todd Akins of the Re publican Party." That conceit, he argued, "is probably wrong." On voting day, Jan ice Crouse of the evangelical Concerned Women for America published a piece titled "Obama's War on Women Rhetoric Backfires Heading Into Election," claim ing that "women now prefer Romney 56 percent to 40 percent Obama."

Then the results came in. It quickly became clear that women hadn't just re elected the president-they'd dealt a his toric blow to the religious right, helped put a record number of women in the Senate, and become the heart of a new governing coalition. According to CNN exit polls, women made up 53 percent of

the electorate, and they went for Obama by 11 points. (Romney, meanwhile, won men by 7.) According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rut gers, it was the second-largest gender gap in American history, exceeded only by the 1996 electorate. Because of women's votes, Republicans lost two Senate seats they once seemed certain to win-Missouri and Indiana-after their candidates made shocking comments about rape, preg nancy, and abortion. Among some con servatives, a realization has begun to set in that they need to start winning over women or get used to being a permanent minority party. Writing in National Review Online, the Independent Women's Forum's Carrie Lukas admitted that she'd been wrong in assuming that the "war on women" frame wouldn't work: "This should be a wakeup call for everyone on the right."

In fact, never before in American his tory have women--and particularly liberal women--held so much power, both as voters and as politicians. There will be 20 women in the next Senate--hardly parity, but still a record. (Of the five new female senators elected Nov. 6, four are Demo crats.) Perhaps the night's biggest upset came in the North Dakota Senate race, where Democrat Heidi Heitkamp beat Tea Party favorite Rick Berg, who in Sep tember was given an 80 percent chance of victory by polling savant Nate Silver. Also prevailing were Elizabeth Warren, the first female senator from Massachusetts, and Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, the country's first lesbian senator.

There were so many female firsts on election night that it was sometimes hard to keep up. Hawaii's Mazie Hirono will be the first Asian-American woman in the Senate. Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs in a helicopter crash in Iraq, became the first disabled female veteran elected to Congress. (She defeated the bombas tic Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh, who recently made news for arguing that abortion is never necessary to save a woman's life.) New Hampshire is sending the country's first-ever all-female con gressional delegation to Washington; the state also elected a Democratic woman governor, Maggie Hassan.

Several of the states where women tri umphed had particularly large gender gaps--in New Hampshire, for example, Obama lost the male vote by 4 points but won the female vote by 16. It's a safe bet that it was these same women voters who've turned the state into a political matriarchy. But the influence women exercised on this year's results goes beyond electing female representa tion. Women voters proved that politi cians cannot threaten their rights with impunity. We don't yet know the pre cise influence that issues like equal-pay legislation, abortion, and birth control had on the electorate. …