Is 2010 the Year of the Republican Woman?

The national media dubbed 1992 the Year of the Woman in politics, as over 250 women ran for Congress, still a record.  If so, then 2010 could be considered the Year of the Republican Woman.  The Washington Post reports that 270 women have filed for candidacies in House and Senate races — and over 100 of them are Republicans:

Nearly two years after Sarah Palin became the Republican Party’s first female vice presidential nominee, record numbers of Republican women are running for House seats, driving the overall count of women running for both the House and the Senate to a new high.

The surge in female candidates has taken place largely under the radar. The previous high came in 1992, the Year of the Woman, when the percentage of women in Congress reached double digits for the first time. That year, 222 women filed to run for the House and 29 for the Senate.

So far this year, 239 women are candidates for the House and 31 for the Senate, according to data from the Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. Among them, a record 107 Republican women have filed to run for a House seat, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee — surpassing a previous GOP high of 91 in 1994 and a sharp increase from the 65 who ran in 2008. And those numbers could grow. In each year that Rutgers has been keeping track, the final tally has exceeded the late April figure by more than 20.

Republican women have two significant role models for this new surge in activism. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann have toured the country, headlining Tea Party events and becoming spokespeople for the grassroots opposition to the radical Democratic agenda. In my experience at Tea Party events, we seem to get a bigger turnout of women — and women tend to dominate the organizer ranks as well.

That trend could represent a long-term danger for Democrats. In national elections, they have always enjoyed a “gender gap” in support, with women breaking away from the GOP while men break away from Democrats. Bill Clinton won the “soccer mom” vote in his two elections and the 1992 Year of the Woman helped set the stage for that dominance.  A sudden explosion of Republican women challenging for seats held by Democrats could mean a weakening of that edge or its elimination altogether — and without it, they will have a tough time beating Republicans and holding majorities.

Those women will have to win these elections, and as the Post notes, it won’t be easy.  Two-thirds of the Republican women running for Congress are facing Democratic incumbents who intend to run for re-election (only nine are challenging a Republican incumbent).  Traditionally, incumbents win re-election around 90% of the time, so the math here is particularly daunting.  This year, though, most people expect significant turnover — and if the GOP can send dozens of women to Capitol Hill in support of a limited-government agenda, they could realign the women’s vote for the long term.  If Republicans manage to do that, they can thank Palin and Bachmann.

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