JONATHAN COHN NOVEMBER 5, 2010
It was supposed to be the Republican “Year of the Woman.” Sarah Palin warned us that we'd be trampled by a “stampede of pink elephants”—or perhaps a sleuth of “Mama Grizzlies"—headed into office. But now that it's all over, it's worth looking at one unexpected aspect of Palin's gender revolution: Her women candidates didn't attract that much feminine support.
Take the election of Palin-backed Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s first female governor, and the de-facto national face of GOP girl power. As pre-election polls predicted and as the numbers now tell us, she didn't actually pick up that many women voters—her victory came largely due to the backing of white, male Republicans. Indeed, she attracted roughly the same percentage of support among women as John McCain did running against Obama in 2008 (they split the female vote 48 percent to 51 percent). Other Mamas had even bigger gender gaps: In Delaware, Christine O’Donnell lost the female vote by 25 points, but lost the male vote by only six points; in Nevada, Harry Reid pulled 11 percent more women voters than Sharron Angle.
In other words, Haley won because she ran as a Republican in a Republican year in a very Republican state. Throughout the campaign, she didn't focus on women's issues, and didn't do much in the way of active outreach to women and minority groups. Tagging along with the Haley supporters on election eve, it seemed clear that many of her female backers were already longtime conservative activists, who had already toiled in the state's Republican hierarchy for years. As one confided to me, “To be perfectly honest, the women in South Carolina have always been the ones who have supported the candidates, did the grassroots effort. … We’ve run for small offices here and there—but it’s always been a male state." She explained that, with Haley's election, they were hoping to alter that state of affairs and give conservative women a more prominent place in South Carolina's political scene. But that's not the same thing as bringing more ladies into the tent.