G(rand) O(ld) P(ricks)

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 15, 2012

For years, I've chronicled in the Phoenix the dwindling ranks of Republican women in elected office, and suggested that their absence will ultimately hurt the GOP.

The moment of reckoning may be here. We can see it unfolding in the hotly contested US Senate race between incumbent Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. The GOP's female deficit is likely to help Warren win this election — and prevent Republicans from taking control of the Senate.

It's not a secret that women are the swing voters expected to decide the Brown-Warren race. Warren's campaign has relentlessly attacked Brown on women's issues, and Brown has used his mother, wife, and daughters — and tales of himself folding laundry — to counter the onslaught.

Women, particularly in suburban families, are crucial to this race. Unlike strong partisans on both sides, a great many of them have a positive view of Brown. Women in households with at least $100,000 in annual income prefer Brown over Warren, says Ray La Raja, political science professor at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, which recently conducted a poll of the race.

But every time women get wind of the GOP's latest misogynistic outrage — such as Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's assertion that victims of "legitimate rape" don't get pregnant — it pushes them a little further away from Brown.

That might not be the case if female voters saw plenty of prominent women speaking up from within the GOP — but all they see is a party of men.

That's especially true in the US Senate. Currently just five of 47 Republicans are women, none of whom are in high leadership positions. And it's only getting worse. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Kaye Bailey Hutchison of Texas are retiring, and only Nebraska candidate Deb Fischer is likely to join the remaining three: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Chew on this: beginning next January, fewer than two percent of Americans will have a Republican woman senator. Close to 15 percent will have two Democratic women senators; close to 40 percent will have at least one.

The GOP congressional caucus is more than 90 percent male, and its committee leadership is even more skewed. The women of the George W. Bush administration are gone and largely forgotten. All three female Supreme Court justices are Democratic appointments — it's been over 30 years since George H.W. Bush named the one and only Republican woman to the bench.

Washington Republicans have moved beyond parody; they embody female exclusion.


Brown hasn't always helped his own cause. He voted against an equal-pay bill, voted against confirming Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, and recently cited notoriously anti-women's-rights Justice Antonin Scalia as a "model."

"It starts with the issues," says John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. The dearth of Republican women in public office "compounds the problem that Scott Brown has: that when it comes to standing with women, he votes the other way."

As he has on so many issues, Brown has compiled a mixed record on women. But — as Warren effectively showed in an exchange during last week's debate in Springfield — that's enough to taint Brown by association.

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