John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Rebranding the GOP and Closing the Gender Gap

Posted on June 8, 2010

Nikki Haley, South Carolina gubernatorial election, 2010

I have a theory about the differences between a Republican primary and a general election.  To win a Republican primary, you have to win a majority of white men.  To win a general election, though, (and this is in Senate seats and in politically competitive House seats), you have to win a majority (or at least get fairly close) of white married women.

The gender gap has long been the bane of the GOP.  Women in general have turned against the Republican Party, especially African American women, and younger single women.  While the GOP has consistently done very well with white men, winning that demographic overwhelmingly for as long as I have been voting, the gender gap has kept the GOP from achieving the dominance that some have long predicted.

The soccer moms played a crucial role in propelling Bill Clinton to two triumphs in the 1990’s, just as the security moms played an equally crucial role in the two Bush victories in 2000 and 2004.  White women proved to be the critical voting bloc for Barack Obama in 2008, as John McCain’s cowboy-themed maverick just didn’t click with the chicks.

The tea party (with the notable exception of Sarah Palin) hasn’t been particularly kind to Republican women, although of course, they love Sarah Palin. Palin polls poorly among women voters, especially more affluent and educated white women voters and all too often, Republican female candidates don’t hold up to Tea Party scrutiny.  DeDe Scozzaffava, the losing Republican candidate in the New York House seat is but one example of a female candidate who wasn’t conservative enough in the eyes of the GOP/tea party base (despite being the choice of GOP establishment), and she was basically run out of town.

But if the latest polls can be believed, that might be starting to change.

In California, two white females are looking like they are going to beat back challenges from the right and win their party’s nominations for the Senate and the Governorship.  In South Carolina, another woman is closing fast to replace Mark Sanford, despite an ugly campaign that includes charges of adultery and all kinds of other malfeasance.  In Nevada, two women are the front runners to take on Harry Reid.  And more Republican women are poised to win nominations in the House than at any other time in our national history.

Democrats broke the glass ceiling in 2006 by electing the first female Speaker of the House in history.  Then in 2008, they unceremoniously dumped their front-runner for President, who happened to be a woman, and gave the nomination to an inexperienced African-American man with a funny last name.  Many thought that by failing to nominate Hillary Clinton, who was clearly more qualified to be President than Barack Hussein Obama, the Democrats took two huge steps back in the fight for female equality.

Democratic women office holders tend to make a bigger deal out of their gender than Republican women office holders.  They tend to wrap themselves in the pro-choice flag, they tend to stress children issues, and they like to focus on the warm and fuzzies.

Republican women office holders tend to play down their gender.  If they are pro-choice, they don’t make a big deal out of it, but they usually tend to be pro-life.  They focus on business issues, and oppose government expansion.   They also tend to portray themselves as reformers, because, obviously, their gender distances them from the old boys clubs that dot State Capitols around the country.

That is certainly the case with Sarah Palin, and it seems to also be the case with Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and in South Carolina, Nikki Haley.  Sharon Angle, who looks like she will win in the Nevada primary, also fits the bill.

This is a good development for Republicans.  Having pro-business, pro-reform Republican women running and winning from East to West, may very well be the way that the GOP can recapture control of the Senate, win critical governorships, and rebrand the party to close the gender gap for the foreseeable future.