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National NOW Times >> Winter 2007  >> Article

Women Make the Difference in Elections

By Linda Berg, Political Director

Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives -- second in line for the presidency -- the highest political position ever held by a U.S. woman.

AP Photo

Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives – second in line for the presidency – the highest political position ever held by a U.S. woman.

Women's rights activists breathed a collective sigh of relief when the final election results were tabulated. Nancy Pelosi became the first woman to serve as the Speaker of the House, Harry Reid became the Senate Majority Leader, and the power to confirm right-wing extremist judges was wrested from the control of anti-women Republican leaders. NOW PAC candidates did exceedingly well this election cycle, and we have much cause to celebrate the arrival of feminist reinforcements for the 110th Congress.

With the election of Missouri's Claire McCaskill and Minnesota's Amy Klobuchur, sixteen women will now serve in the US Senate and 71 women (plus three Delegates) will serve in the House — an increase, but the boost is less than one percent. All of our endorsed incumbent senators were re-elected, and NOW PAC endorsed winning new Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). All have a long history of fighting for women's rights.

Women made the difference in three critical Senate races, choosing the more progressive candidate in each race. According to exit polling by Ms. Magazine , 55% of Virginia women voted for Jim Webb, 51% of Missouri women voted for Claire McCaskill, and in Montana, 52% of women voted for Jon Tester. In each race, if only men had voted, these new senators would have lost. In each of these three key races, women supported the candidate who was strongest on women's rights and reproductive rights — and those candidates won.

Because the Democratic Party is considered more open to women's rights concerns, the gender gap was glaring, especially in Senate contests. In Rhode Island, a higher percentage of women than men rejected the Republican Party nominee Lincoln Chafee, even though he was considered to be moderate, and voted for Sheldon Whitehouse in hopes of changing leadership in the Senate. In Pennsylvania, many women held their noses and supported anti-choice Robert Casey over equally anti-choice Rick Santorum in hopes of removing Senate control from the leaders who had put Sam Alito on the Supreme Court. Ohio women had the starkest choice on women's rights issues between candidates, and more strongly preferred NOW PAC endorsed Sherrod Brown than did male voters. In New Jersey and Maryland female voters turned out strongly for Democratic candidates Robert Menendez and Ben Cardin, retained those incumbent seats.

All 40 of NOW PAC's endorsed or supported incumbents in the House were also re-elected. Nine of the 28 newly elected members of Congress were endorsed by NOW PAC as strong supporters of women's rights: Gabrielle Giffords and Harry Mitchell (Ariz.), Jerry McNerney (Calif.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Carol Shea Porter (N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Joe Sestak (Pa.), Steve Cohen (Tenn.), and Steve Kagan (Wis.). The gender gap was strong in House races, with women voting 55% for Democratic candidates compared to 50% of men.

The pipeline of women serving in state offices has grown, as well. There will be nine women governors (18%) serving in 2007, and Janet Napolitano (Ariz.) will serve as chair of the National Governor's Conference; seventy-six women will hold statewide executive offices, and a record number of women, 1731 or 23.5%, will be serving in their state legislatures.

NOW leaders fared very well in their state legislative races. See "NOW Leaders Run and Win in November Elections" for a detailed look at current and past NOW leaders who won in November.

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