Right after the 2010 elections (and immediately before) there was some very public handwringing in the media about the number of women in congress decreasing. According to the CS Monitor, the election was “tough on all Democrats, but particularly on female lawmakers.” I think some of this is misguided. Granted, as markhanna wrote in November, 2010 was definitely not another “year of the woman.” But even though the number of women shrank (ever so slightly) in the red wave, as MassGOP suggested it might, the proportion of women within each party grew, and in the long run this isn’t much of a setback. You could even read it as progress.
The percentage of women in the House Republican conference, the House Democratic caucus, the Senate Republican conference and the Senate Democratic caucus all went up, even as the overall number of women went down in the House and stayed the same in the Senate. This somewhat counterintuitive situation is the result of a shift in representation from the more heavily female Democratic caucus to the less heavily female Republican conference. But within their parties, both sides have a higher proportion of women than in the last congress. As long as Democrats have more women, the constant shifts in balance between the parties will always affect the number of women in congress, so I don’t think it’s anything to get worked up about. The GOP deserves some credit for electing more of their own women even though they brought the overall numbers down.
Regardless of what happens in 2012, the number of women will probably go up in the next election. Democrats are more heavily female than ever, and if they have a good year the number of women legislators will probably shoot upwards. Republicans probably won’t take many more seats next cycle, but if they maintain a similar majority, the natural turnover in their party should lead to more women; in the House their freshman class was more heavily female than the Republican conference as a whole and in the Senate the proportion of non-incumbent female nominees was a record high.
The 112th House
Right now, 89 of the 535 voting members of the 112th Congress are women, about 16.6%. There are 17 women in the Senate and 72 women in the House, excluding three non-voting delegates. (Delegates aren’t included in any of the numbers in this diary. Sorry, Guam.) The total numbers are not far off from the 111th Congress, which had 90 women at its close. That figure was actually higher in the opening days of the 111th, before Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Hilda Solis (CA-32), and Ellen Tauscher (CA-10) vacated their seats to join the Obama administration. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY-20) was appointed to Clinton’s Senate seat, and Judy Chu won CA-32 in a special election. But then Gillibrand and Tauscher were succeeded by Scott Murphy and John Garamendi, respectively.
Although the total number of women didn’t change much, there was quite a bit of turnover in the House. Fourteen women left (2 Republicans and 12 Democrats) and thirteen women joined (9 Republicans and 4 Democrats). The freshman class totals 96 this year, and the thirteen new congresswomen account for about 13.5%. That’s much lower than the overall ratio of just under 16.6% in the House, and about one third of the freshmen women came from the tiny Democratic freshman class. But breaking it down further, the results are less discouraging.
On the Democratic side, Diane Watson (CA-33) retired; Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (MI-13) was defeated in her primary; and Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01), Betsy Markey (CO-04), Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24), Melissa Bean (IL-08), Debbie Halvorson (IL-11), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Dina Titus (NV-03), Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), Kathy Dahlkemper (PA-03) and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD-AL) all lost to Republican challengers. The four new Democratic congresswomen are Karen Bass (CA-33), who took Watson’s seat; Terri Sewell (AL-07), who succeeded gubernatorial candidate Artur Davis; Frederica Wilson (FL-17), who replaced senatorial candidate Kendrick Meek; and Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01), who defeated an incumbent Republican. Of the women who lost to Republicans, only Kosmas and Herseth Sandlin were succeeded by women. At the time of the election, there were 255 voting members of the Democratic caucus, of whom 56 were women – about 22.0% of the caucus. After the election, the Democratic caucus shrank to 193 voting members, of whom 48 are women – about 24.9% of the caucus.
On the Republican side, Ginny Browne-Waite (R-FL) retired and Mary Fallin (R-OK) ran a successful campaign for governor. Their safe red seats were both won by Republican men. Diane Black (TN-06) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03) succeeded retiring male Democrats, while Martha Roby (AL-02), Vicki Hartzler (MO-04), Renee Ellmers (NC-02), Nan Hayworth (NY-19) and Ann Marie Buerkle (NY-25) defeated Democratic male incumbents. Sandy Adams (FL-24) and Kristi Noem (SD-AL) defeated Democratic women – Kosmas and Herseth Sandlin. At the time of the election, there were 180 voting members of the Republican conference, of which 17 were women – about 9.4% of the conference. After the election, the Republican conference expanded to 242 members, of whom 24 are women – about 9.9% of the conference.
There were noticeable differences between the freshman classes in each party. There were only nine Democratic freshmen this year, and four of them were women – that’s a whopping 44.4% of the Democratic freshmen. There were actually only two straight white men, out of nine. Just as the founding fathers intended! On the other side of the aisle, the tidal wave of 87 freshman Republicans includes only nine mama grizzlies, which works out to 10.3%. But even though it’s a low number, it’s still better than the overall rate for House Republicans, which is why overall representation of women in the Republican conference increased.
Looking at the whole class of 2010 candidates, there were 47 women among the 431 Republican nominees and 91 women among the 417 Democratic nominees. So 10.9% of Republican nominees were women and 21.8% of Democratic nominees. The Republican figure is better than the Republican rate in the House and among freshmen, while the Democratic figure is a little bit lower than the 24.9% of Democrats in the House (and way worse than the outlier freshmen). Overall, 139 of the major parties’ 848 candidates for voting seats in the congress were women, and there were ten races featuring women from both major parties (CA-36, CA-37, FL-20, FL-24, KS-02, MN-04, MN-06, NY-28, SD-AL and WV-02).
Of course, nominating a woman to run against a safe incumbent isn’t necessarily a sign of progress, and a few dozen of these candidates never had much of a chance. Of the 24 Republican women who lost their races, only five cleared 40% – Beth Ann Rankin v. Mike Ross (AR-04), Ruth McClung v. Raul Grijalva (AZ-07), Marianette Miller-Meeks v. Dave Loebsack (IA-02), Jackie Walorski v. Joe Donnelly (IN-02), and Anna Little v. Frank Pallone (NJ-06). On the other side of the aisle, seven non-incumbent Democratic women lost but got at least 40%, including two who challenged incumbents. Four of these women were running to succeed retiring Democrats – Joyce Elliott (AR-02), Stephene Moore (KS-03), Annie Kuster (NH-02) and Julie Lassa (WI-07) – while Lori Edwards (FL-12) put up respectable numbers trying to take an open Republican seat. Meanwhile, Paula Brooks (OH-12) made a decent run at Pat Tiberi and Suzan Delbene lost a close race to Dave Reichert (WA-08).
Including the 89 women who won their races, there were 101 races featuring women who received over 40%. Apart from this 40%+ crowd, there were a few other women who mounted serious challenges, notably Tarryl Clark (MN-06). And there were some other memorable challengers like Krystal Ball (VA-01) and Star Parker (CA-37). There’s a decent chance that Walorski, Kuster and Delbene all show up in the 113th.
Fun facts: there are some seriously woman-less parts of the country. For example, Georgia has 13 seats but only nominated one woman (who lost); Indiana similarly has nine seats but only nominated one woman (who lost). New Jersey had two women in its field of twenty-six major party candidates, and they both lost. Pennsylvania was about the same, even though Allyson Schwartz is hanging in there. And no women were nominated to contest any of Kentucky’s six seats. Meanwhile, Republicans contested all 53 Californian seats, but nominated only three (!) women, and the only one who won is a congressional widow. On the other hand, Democrats put up 51 nominees in California, and 23 were women. Yeah, that’s 45%. Pretty impressive given the sample size. And yet, California Democrats can’t compete with 100% female Republicans in Wyoming, 100% female Democrats in New Hampshire and 100% female everything in South Dakota.
The 112th Senate
On the Senate side of things there was no net change in 2010, with Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) losing to John Boozman and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) replacing Judd Gregg. The overall proportion remains stuck at 17%, where it’s been since Jeanne Shaheen and Kay Hagan were elected in 2009. Martha Coakley would have given us 18%, but she didn’t, because that’s how she rolls. Sixteen new senators were seated following the 2010 election, which means that women – er, Ayotte – accounted for only 6.3% of the freshman class, much worse than the overall ratio of 17%. But although the freshman class was male-heavy, both sides of the aisle have a higher proportion of women in their caucuses. There are now five Republican women, about 10.6% of the Republican caucus, compared with 9.8% at the time of the 2010 elections. Even though the 13-member Republican class was only 7.7% female, five of the new male senators replaced outgoing male senators, so the overal proportion went up. By contrast, there are twelve Democratic women, about 22.6% of the Democratic caucus, whereas the 111th Democratic caucus was 22.0% female at the time of the election. Even though 100% of the Democratic freshmen (Coons, Manchin, Blumenthal) are men and the Democratic caucus lost Lincoln, they lost so many men that the remaining women make up a greater proportion.
But compared to recent elections, both parties did a pretty decent job nominating women in competitive races. In addition to Ayotte, Republicans put up Carly Fiorina (R-CA), Linda McMahon (R-CT), Christine O’Donnell (R-DE) and Sharron Angle (R-NV) in contests that were considered competitive at some point in the cycle. Angle and O’Donnell were a bit of a fluke, and Delaware was hardly a race after O’Donnell was nominated, but the powers that be also backed plausibly viable candidates Sue Lowden (R-NV) and Jane Norton (R-CO) before they tanked in the primaries. On the Democratic side, Robin Carnahan (D-MO) and Roxanne Conlin (D-IA) were both good candidates under the circumstances, even if Conlin never had a chance. North Carolina Democrats nominated Elaine Marshall over the beltway’s objections and Jennifer Brunner (D-OH) was considered a viable candidate by some. And then there were the five incumbents who were reelected: Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA).
Although Ayotte and Gillibrand were the only newly-elected women in the 112th senate, it’s noteworthy that there were so many non-incumbent women in the pipeline this year. By the numbers, there were 73 major party candidates for the Senate this year, and there were 15 women. According to an analysis by CAWP (PDF), that’s the highest number ever. (The previous record was 12 in 2006.) And at 20.5%, it’s also better than overall representation in the Senate. Among Democrats, nine of 36 were women (25%) and among Republicans it was six of 37 (16.2%). Both of these numbers are better than the current caucus figures.
Leaving out the 23 incumbents who were nominated to contest their seats (including six women), there were nine women among the 50 non-incumbent nominees, which is 18% – just about the rate in the Senate as a whole. Interestingly, the Democratic pool of non-incumbent nominees was slightly more male than the Republican class of nominees. 18.5% of the non-incumbent Republican nominees were women (5 of 27), as opposed to 17.4% of Democratic non-incumbent nominees (4 of 23). For Republicans to be about even with Democrats is remarkable.
But of course, not all nominees are created equal. Lisa Johnston (D-KS) didn’t crack 30% of the vote and Roxanne Conlin only got to 33.2%. Elaine Marshall, Robin Carnahan, Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Linda McMahon and Carly Fiorina all failed to reach 45%, although Angle and Fiorina kept their losses within single digits. No one did better than 45% except Kelly Ayotte. Embarassingly, Blanche Lincoln had the third-lowest vote share, after Johnston and Conlin.
Although the overall number of women in congress will probably go up or stay about the same in 2012, there’s a chance the number of women in the Senate will decrease. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) is retiring, and so far only one woman – Elizabeth Ames Jones – is running to replace her. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) are all considered somewhat vulnerable, to varying degrees, and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) could always end up as a surprise retirement. But there are already women exploring Senate runs – Sarah Steelman, Ann Wagner and Jo Ann Emerson have all been bandied about in the past couple days as McCaskill challengers, for example. And is there a Sen. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) on the horizon? If Obama appoints Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to replace Hillary Clinton, might Deval Patrick scan through comment threads on SSP and give us Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz?