Wednesday 23 October 2019

Karen Tumulty: 'Women no longer a novelty in US political system - they're the norm'

Democrats celebrate after Laura Kelly is elected governor of Kansas. Photo: REUTERS/Dave Kaup
Democrats celebrate after Laura Kelly is elected governor of Kansas. Photo: REUTERS/Dave Kaup

Karen Tumulty

The aftershock from Hillary Clinton's defeat has been two years in coming, but on Tuesday night it arrived as legions of women were elected to Congress and statehouses across the US. One after another, they won across the map.

Democrat Laura Kelly was elected governor of ruby-red Kansas. Four Democratic women - Madeleine Dean, Mary Scanlon, Christina Houlahan and Susan Wild - will join what had been an all-male congressional delegation from Pennsylvania. Former Navy helicopter pilot Rebecca Michelle 'Mikie' Sherrill flipped New Jersey's 11th congressional district from red to blue.

Texas elected its first Latinas to Congress: State senator Sylvia Garcia of Houston and former El Paso County judge Veronica Escobar. Congress will also have its first two Native American women: Democrats Debra Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of Kansas.

"We were hoping we would be able to make a real difference," said Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily's List, which recruits and raises money for pro-choice candidates. "We pushed hard and played in places that were real stretches."

All of this, by the time it happened, was hardly a surprise. Women were running this year in record numbers at every level of the ballot.

And they are making themselves felt in politics in other ways, as well. Nearly every poll shows that the gender gap has become a chasm.

The face of resistance in the Trump era has truly been a female one, starting with the massive protest marches they staged the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration, in cities and towns throughout the nation. They are giving more to candidates than ever before. And the #MeToo movement has added another impetus.

This has been largely a Democratic phenomenon. In fact, there are likely to be fewer Republican women in the House next January than there are now.

But the GOP's female candidates also made history in some places on Tuesday. Among them was Representative Marsha Blackburn, who was the first woman from Tennessee ever to be elected to the Senate.

A 'Washington Post'-Schar School poll of battleground district voters showed women also took different priorities into the voting booth. By 14 percentage points, they were more likely than men to name health care as one of the top two issues in determining their votes.

The economy, meanwhile, was a less important factor to women: Only 30pc named it as one of their top two priorities, while 40pc of men did.

It will be days before we get a broad sense of what happened in state legislative races, but it appears certain that women will have make significant gains there as well.

All of this new female representation on the state level will have long-running implications. More women will be part of the deal-cutting that happens when legislatures draw the maps for once-a-decade 'redistricting'.

Given the importance that women voters have placed on health care, they will, no doubt, add to the pressure in some states to do things such as expanding their Medicaid programmes.

There have been other election seasons that have been declared "the year of the woman". This time, though, women have left an imprint on politics that feels like it will last - no longer a novelty, but a norm. (© The Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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