The year of the women?

Dateline: 29 March 2006

If Democrats have their way, the New York Times assures us, the 2006 elections will be the revenge of the Mommy Party. Certainly the Democrats are running high profile women candidates in a series of winnable Congressional seats. It may help them take control of the House.

1992 is generally considered “the year of the woman” in American politics, though I suspect it would have been eclipsed by 2000, if 2000 were not, instead, remembered as the year the Supreme Court had to settle the election. In 2000 the three largest states – California, Texas and New York – all elected women as their US Senators. All three – Diane Feinstein, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Hillary Clinton – triumphed by big margins over men. Whereas in large states such as Florida and Pennsylvania – where both candidates were men – the Senate elections were very close.

In other states – such as Michigan and Washington – female challengers defeated male incumbents. The evidence would seem to suggest that women are better at pulling out the vote than men are. If parties were sensible enough to choose women candidates more often they would reap rewards.

And yet . . . then there is that phrase ‘the Mommy Party’. It is meant to indicate that people tend to trust the Democrats more on ‘nurturing’ issues, such as health and education. By contrast, ‘the Daddy Party’ is where you turn when you are worried about war, crime, or terrorism. The two years of the women marked the beginning and the end of that national security lull. The Cold War was over. 9/11 had not happened yet. Perhaps the Mommy Party’s time has not yet come.

If the GOP has its way, 2006 will be remembered as they year of the African American. Not the year of an African American fringe: that was 1988, when Jesse Jackson mobilized blacks and liberals to make a serious push for Democrat leadership. Moderates took fright, and decided the party was not quite ready for that yet. 2006 could be the year African Americans hit the mainstream, winning major statewide contests, on Republican tickets.

The strongest black Republican seeking office this year I have mentioned before. He is Ken Blackwell, Ohio’s Secretary of State, and candidate for Governor. In neighboring Pennsylvania, Democrat governor Ed Rendell – a rising star in his party – is facing a potent challenge from former Pittsburgh Steeler, Lyn Swann. In Maryland, Lt. Governor, Michael Steele is running for a Democrat held open seat in the Senate. In Michigan, Debbie Stabenow – one of the triumphant Democrat women from six years ago – could find herself facing Keith Butler – a Detroit Councilman and pastor of the city’s largest evangelical church.

In all four states – and right across the South and in the big industrial states – the Democrats need 90% of the black vote to be competitive. Against powerful black Republicans it may not be possible to achieve that. Democrats also need to win big in the cities to make up for losing the rural areas and suburbs. Polls suggest Stabenow is pretty safe, but can she really win Detroit against a candidate like Butler? Rendell is a former mayor of Philadelphia, and will win there, but will Pittsburgh turn its back on Lyn Swann?

They year of the woman or the year of the African American? We will see.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 29 March 2006

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