The Republicans’ plan to take over the Senate has hit a snag in recent weeks. With Congressional candidates behaving almost belligerently sexist and their presidential candidate making two potentially fatal mistakes in the last week, it seems that the momentum of the 2010 GOP has fizzled. This is good news for Democrats, who hold currently hold the Senate by only one seat.
In the last week, three Democratic women have inched forward to narrow leads in tight races. Their victory in November could retain the Senate for the Dems, and increase the number of women in the Senate to 20 percent.
Elizabeth Warren v. Scott Brown
Elizabeth Warren, the creator of the Consumer Financial Protections Bureau, may be one of the most passionate women in politics. But despite her passion and the reputation of the CFPB as the “caped crusader of the executive branch,” Warren has consistently trailed incumbent Senator Scott Brown. Part of this is due in part to the inherent advantage that comes with being an incumbent legislator, and part of it is due to Warren’s own gaffes. Earlier in the year, it was alleged that she falsely claimed Cherokee heritage in order to benefit professionally. No evidence has been found that Warren’s family lore about Cherokee heritage, but neither has any evidence that she has ever claimed that heritage for any sort of gain.
But after her rousing performance at the DNC, Warren has slowly been closing the gap with Brown. Warren’s speech gained her some notoriety when she brought the crowd to its feet saying, “ No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts. They have kids. They get jobs. They get sick. They thrive. They dance. They live. They love. And they die. And that matters. That matters. That matters because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people.”
Brown has been trying to head off Warren’s tentative lead by appealing to voters as a moderate. His latest political ad paints him as a moderate pro-choice Republican who supports equal pay for women, despite having voted against the Lily Ledbetter Paycheck Fairness Act and for multiple anti-birth control bills. He only has a 50% rating from NARAL, and was recently endorsed by Massachusetts Citizens for Life. To make such a false claim makes it clear that the Brown campaign is sweating Warren’s lead – a lead that may well increase after the candidates debate.
Tammy Baldwin v. Tommy Thompson
The Representative for Wisconsin’s 2nd District Tammy Baldwin was the first openly lesbian of member of the Wisconsin Assembly. Baldwin also became the first openly non-incumbent to be elected to the House of Representatives when she won her 1999 race.
Rep. Baldwin’s race against Republican incumbent Senator Tommy Thompson has been an uphill battle. But like Warren, Baldwin gave a well-received convention speech during prime-time, and now holds a 3-point lead. Emily’s List, an organization that funds progressive women running for office, has been backing her campaign due in part to her 100% NARAL rating. By comparison, Sen. Thompson is rated at 0% by NARAL.
If Baldwin retains her lead – which as it stands is between 3 and 5 points – she would be the first openly gay Senator elected. This would be the third consecutive job in which Baldwin was the first openly lesbian woman to hold the position. Electing Tammy Baldwin to the Senate wouldn’t just add more representation for women and Democrats, it would be the first LGBT voice in the Senate.
Claire McCaskill v. Todd Akin
Sitting Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri was slated to lose her Senate race to House Representative Todd Akin. In August, Akin led McCaskill by a sizable margin. That wasn’t entirely surprising; McCaskill is a moderate Democrat and Missouri is one of the most conservative states in the country.
But that all changed days before the Republican National Convention. Akin became a household name overnight after he went on national television touted his questionable knowledge of basic human biology. An anti-choice representative on par with VP nominee Paul Ryan, Akin stuck to his guns even as Romney and other top Republicans called for him to drop out of the race. Republican strategist Karl Rove predicted an “historic loss” for Akin if he stayed in the race.
Immediately after the remarks, McCaskill led Akin by an incredible ten points. McCaskill herself said that lead was too good to be true, and since then the gap between the two has narrowed. The latest polls show McCaskill retaining a 5-point lead. McCaskill has been playing it safe – she skipped the DNC to campaign in her state – but might scrape by and unexpectedly retain a seat for the Democrats.
There are a record number of women running for the House and Senate this year. That’s a great achievement in and of itself, but it would be that much sweeter if progressive women won some hard-fought victories in November.