Women Flex Their Political Muscle in 2010 Primaries

Carly Fiorina, Nikki Haley, Meg Whitman, and others are making waves this cycle.

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That helps explain how Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln put the "incumbents are doomed" conventional wisdom on its head in last week's surprise victory. The two-term incumbent harnessed anti-establishment sentiments, upsetting Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who had ridden voter anger into Tuesday's runoff. After labor groups spent $10 million supporting Halter, he surged ahead in polls. Lincoln, who had positioned herself as an independent centrist, used that national support to paint him as the candidate of the national progressive establishment. She took 52 percent of the vote. [See where Lincoln's campaign cash is coming from.]

Despite the recent victories, women are still a small minority among this year's candidates. For example, women only won 23 percent of all of last Tuesday's races. Also, there are only 7 women of 105 total candidates that ran with the National Republican Congressional Committee's Young Guns program this year. Likewise, while last week's primary winners have been able to keep their focus on the economy rather than traditional women's issues, the media attention given to Fiorina's on-camera mocking of Boxer's hair late last week indicates that females, unlike their male counterparts, still face accusations of cattiness, and superficialities, like hair and clothing, continue to invite scrutiny.

Whether this is a woman's year or not, Eleanor Roosevelt's proverbial kettle will surely keep boiling for these candidates into November.

  • See the women of the Senate.
  • See which industries give the most to Congress.