When Women Stay Home, Dem Candidates Might as Well

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New York Democratic Senator Kristin Gillibrand

Credit: Senate Democrats on Flickr under Creative Commons

(WOMENSENEWS)–The secret to Republican success at the polls Tuesday night was for women to stay home. They did. The seven Republican Senators-elect were supported more by male voters than women.

A word of caution: The results on the gender gap are not definitive, as yet, because they are often based in models, not actual data, warned Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics. She said that her institute will take a close look at the census information released in June to know what percentage of voters female and male but she does not expect any dramatic differences to appear.

Overall, Republican women gained two Senate seats and Democrats lost two, for no net change in the number of women in the U.S. Senate, a total of 20 out of 100 senators.

Women’s rights advocates were across the board successful, however, on ballot initiatives:

In several states, however, many referendums passed that women activists supported. In Massachusetts, a paid sick leave law passed, and ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage in Arkansas, Nebraska, and Illinois passed as well. In South Dakota and Colorado, anti-abortion ballot initiatives failed, at least in part due to the get-out-the-vote efforts by black women.

"Yesterday we had powerful ground operations led by black women and youth in several states. All of them say turnout was higher than expected, and, in many states more turned out than in 2010," said Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and head of the Black Women’s Roundtable in a press release. "There were several state ballot initiatives that passed for minimum wage and paid sick days that will have a positive economic benefit for women and working families. Campbell also said part of the explanation of the Republican victory is that the Democrats "ran away" from President Obama.

In Tuesday’s election, according to exit polls, male voters favored Republicans by a 14-point margin (56 percent voted for the GOP, 42 percent for Democrats), while women voted for Democratic candidates by a ten-point margin–52 percent compared to 42 percent of men supporting Democrats, according to the National Election Pool. This gender gap grew during the past four years, with women nearly splitting their votes evenly between the two political parties in 2010, the last midterm election.

New York Democratic Senator Kristin Gillibrand was tireless in her efforts to raise funds for Democratic female candidates, and she may have influenced the percentage of women who voted for her candidates. By midnight, though, the Republicans trounced those she was supporting. Her office issued a statement Wednesday conceding "we lost key battles last night."

She also cited a number of victories for Democratic women. However, Florida’s Gwen Graham was the only one mentioned who unseated an incumbent Steve Southerland, best known for having male-only campaign gathering and defending them clumsily.

Southerland wrote in an invite to potential supporters: "Tell the misses not to wait up because the after dinner whiskey and cigars will be smooth and the issues to discuss are many." He later argued his event was no different than a "lingerie party," and suggested that Graham would know what an event like that could be like.

Women Backing Other Women

Three Democratic female incumbents kept their seats: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire, U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, Ariz., and Tulsi Gabbard with 81 percent of the vote in Hawaii.

And in one little-noticed Democratic win, Gina Raimondo became the first female governor of Rhode Island.

Here’s the gender gap in several hotly contested Senate races of women who lost their campaign, but received a majority of women’s votes, according to exit polls by Edison Research.

In Georgia, 53 percent of the women who voted cast their ballots for Michelle Nunn, yet she lost to David Perdue who won 61 percent of the male vote for a final tally of 52 percent of the vote.

In North Carolina, incumbent Kay Hagan attracted an even higher percentage of the women’s vote, with 54 percent going her way, insufficient to overcome her opponent’s advantage with male voters. Thom Tillis carried 56 percent of the male vote, enough to gain the seat with only a 1 percent edge over Hagan.

In the heated contest in Colorado, a mixed message state, incumbent Mark Udall garnered 52 percent of the women’s vote, in contrast to the victor Corey Gardner’s 56 percent of the male vote–enough to give him a resounding victory, winning the race with a six point margin.

Sandra Fluke, a Women’s eNews 21 Leader 2013, lost her first bid for elected office, losing the race for the California state senate to fellow Democrat Ben Allen. Fluke gained national prominence when she was verbally attacked by Rush Limbaugh after she testified before Congress about the need for access to contraceptives among college-age women.

The exception to the trend was in Iowa where the female vote was evenly split between the Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst, the first woman to be sent to the Senate by her home state.

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