A significant increase in women in federal, state and local office ought to be a higher priority for the Democratic Party, both as a matter of justice and as a strategic goal to strengthen the Party. Regardless of Senator Clinton’s ultimate success or failure, much more needs to be done to eliminate the gender gap in America’s political institutions.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), women hold the following percentages of key elective offices in the U.S.: Governors 18 %; U.S. Senators 16 %; House Members 16.1 %; State Legislators 23.5 %.
Women voters provided critical margins of victory in ’06 for Democratic Senatorial candidates Webb, McCaskill, Tester and Menendez, none of whom received a majority of male votes, according to CAWP, which also reports that 55 percent of women voted for Democratic House candidates in ’06, compared to 50 percent of men. Despite the support women have given to Democratic House candidates as a whole, however, women Democrats fared less well as House candidates in ’06, notes Chris Bowers in his his new blog at OpenLeft:
…of the top thirty Democratic House targets in 2006, Democratic men won 95% of the time, while Democratic women won only 11% of the time…When one starts thinking of the close, frustrating House defeats in 2006, it is overwhelmingly populated by women
Bowers discusses several theories for the shortfall. In response to Bowers’ post, She Should Run, a Womens Campaign Forum initiative to elect 1,000 pro-choice women, responds:
In pointing to losses by women in several close races, Bowers assumes the problem lies in the candidates who ran last year or the way their campaigns were managed. But the root of the gender gap in politics rests with the women who did NOT run last year….The 2006 results for women House candidates were disappointing, but were an aberration based more on the toss-up dynamic of some of the closest House races in history rather than a deficiency attributable to women candidates.
The one conclusion all Democrats should be able to support is that the Party and progressive groups should recruit more women candidates and invest more time, training and money toward getting them elected.