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American Today

Government & Politics

Women and the 2010 Elections

By Mike Unger

Photo: From left, Jennifer Lawless, Dee Dee Myers, and Dana Perino

From left, Jennifer Lawless and former White House press secretaries Dee Dee Myers and Dana Perino (Photo: Hilary Schwab)

On November 1, women candidates throughout the country seemed poised to pull off a number of high profile victories at the polls.

By November 3, it was clear that the “Year of the Woman” was not to be.

“With a record number of female candidates, at least in the primaries, pundits and pollsters assumed it was the dawning of a new day,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of American University’s School of Public Affairs’ Women and Politics Institute. “It never materialized. We have a net decrease in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 30 years.”

So what happened? That’s the question Lawless and former White House press secretaries Dee Dee Myers and Dana Perino tackled November 29 during a panel discussion at the Katzen Arts Center.

“It was a mixed bag,” said Myers, who under President Clinton became the first female press secretary in history. “There were more women running for office than ever before. Jen’s research suggests that once women get into the general election they do as well as men. The problem is this year men didn’t do very well on the Democratic side.”

Indeed, 77 percent of female candidates this year were Democrats, making them especially vulnerable to an angry electorate, Lawless said.

“For the first time since exit polling was established in 1982 women voted for Republicans more than Democrats,” said Perino, who served under President George W. Bush. “I was very encouraged by the number of minority candidates running on the Republican side.”

Many of those women, however, lost. Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, Linda McMahon, and Christine O’Donnell were among the high-profile female candidates to come up short. Make no mistake about it—future potential female candidates on both sides took note of those results, said Lawless.

Prior to the panel discussion, which was moderated by Politico reporter Shira Toeplitz, Lawless signed copies of her new book, It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office.

Myers has her own theories.

“Concern about families is a big stumbling block to many women,” she said. “Why would [they] want to put [their] family through that? Women don’t like to do things alone. They like to have a team around them. That’s just how they operate whether it’s going to the restroom or whatever.”