Will 2014 be the Year of the Woman, Part 2? Several high profile Senate races feature credible women candidates, some with familiar names representing political powerhouses of the past. History will almost certainly be made in West Virginia, where two women are competing to be the first woman representing the state in the U.S. Senate, and in other high profile races women are poised to break barriers. These are just a few of the women worth watching in this important election year.
Hillary Clinton — Will she or won’t she? That’s the question that will continue to hang over the former Secretary of State/Senator/First Lady and the entire Democratic party next year. And apparently Clinton is ready to answer it this year. But maybe a better question for Clinton, and the party, is this: If she runs, how will she run? Will she lead with her gender, implicitly arguing that a woman president is the change that Washington needs? And would that even be enough? Another question: How does she benefit from the Obama brand but not get buried under what is sure to be Obama fatigue come 2016? Since 2008, Democrats have happily been on cruise control, betting that demographics is destiny. And they have been tripping all over themselves to endorse Hillary Clinton for 2016 (a low risk and utterly meaningless move), but who will want Hillary Clinton on the stump in 2014? Sen. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landreui (La.), Mark Pryor (Ark.)? That will be a good test as to whether Clinton can be the kind of blue-collar Democrat that her husband was, capturing not only working class whites, but the multiracial coalition of African-Americans and Latinos that twice powered Obama to the White House.
Chirlane McCray — Rarely do political wives — particularly wives of big city mayors — become power centers in their own right. New York’s new first lady could change all that. McCray, wife of Bill de Blasio, is one half of a progressive political duo that has liberals swooning. Her husband’s come-from-behind primary victory last fall was due in no small part to McCray’s input and political know-how. She helped write speeches and, as reported in the New York Times, in the campaign headquarters for his mayoral run, the organizational flowchart listed “Bill/Chirlane” at the very top. The populist, tax-the-rich approach that de Blasio has taken is in no small part due to McCray’s own sense of outsider status as a black woman. Now, she is the ultimate insider, the focus of a re-positioning by national Democrats in advance of 2016. Hillary Clinton is even on her coattails. The question is will she end up like Clinton, spurned by constituents not too keen on the two-for-one deal Bill Clinton’s presidency promised. Or will she break the mold, operating behind the scenes and pushing for a progressive portfolio the likes of which New York has never seen.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito — Republicans hopes of capturing the Senate this year run through the south and women voters. West Virginia is positioned to be at the nexus of this trend, with a Senate matchup that will likely feature two women. The race will mark just the 13th time in American history where two women are on the ballot. West Virginia will make history this year by electing a woman to the upper chamber for the first time. So far, 24 states have elected women to the Senate. Capito, the likely winner, will likely face Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, in a state with a strong Democratic history, that is tilting red. The latest polls show Capito leading Tennant by double digits. Democrats have gained the edge on Republicans with the “war on women” campaign, but it isn’t clear that will play well in conservative West Virginia, a state where the national Democratic brand embodied by President Obama has never played well.
Wendy Davis — An internet sensation known for an Iron Woman filibuster while wearing pink sneakers, Davis faces a very, very, very, very steep climb in her bid to win the Lone Star State’s governor’s race. It probably won’t happen. Democratic leaning polls show her down double digits to likely Republican challenger Greg Abbott, the state’s current attorney general. With nearly 160,000 Twitter followers, Davis has established herself as rising star in the national Democratic party. She has spent time outside the state filling her campaign coffers — she’s predicted she will raise $40 million, but is currently lagging badly in the money game. Davis has proven to be a master at PR, dazzling liberals across the country, with her stance on abortion rights. Next year, expect her profile to rise as she likely partners with Texas State Senator (and Latina) Leticia R. Van de Putte, who will likely be on the ticket as lieutenant governor. It’s a dream ticket for Democrats, with little chance of success, but with an eye toward turning Texas blue one of these days.
Mia Love – When Republicans talk about their rebranding efforts in 2014, Exhibit A will be Mia Love. With her second run for Utah’s 4th congressional district seat, Love hopes to make good on her rising star status. Love brought the house down at the Republican National Committee convention in the summer of 2012 in Tampa, using the story of her Haitian immigrant parents as an argument for smaller government. Despite her barnburner speech and her tea party bonafides, the two-term mayor of Saratoga Springs, lost her race for Congress by less than 800 votes to Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson. But 2013 brought good news for Love — Matheson has decided not to run. So, Love looks poised to become the first African-American women to join Congress as a Republican. If she wins, she’ll become a real star in a party desperate to close the gender and race gap. John Boehner has certainly noticed that the year of the woman has skipped his caucus. “You know, you look around the Congress and there are a lot more females in the Democratic caucus then in the Republican caucus,” he said. Boehner and his fellow Republicans would certainly like to add Love to the mix this year.
Susana Martinez — On the way to his blowout win in New Jersey, Chris Christie called in one sitting politician to help him run up the scoreboard in the final days before Election Day: New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, the country’s first Latina governor. Shortlisted by Team Romney in 2012, Martinez checks off a lot of boxes that the GOP really needs as it looks to rebrand the party and get ready for 2016. She is the exact opposite of everything the GOP has come to represent in the minds of some voters. And to let Christie tell it, they are two peas in a pod: “We’re like-minded Republicans,” Christie said of Martinez, who are both former lawyers. And as she stumped in Spanish and English for Christie, she described the likely 2016 presidential candidate as “my dear friend.” She will certainly need more friends in the party if she is to go from shortlister to the real deal in 2016. This year she faces a reelection campaign and those sky high approval ratings (consistently in the 60s) will help. And stumping for Republican candidates as they try to retake the Senate will, too.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers — In 2013, Rodgers set a Congressional record — the Washington Republican gave birth to her third child while in office, making her the first sitting congresswoman to do so. (Surely, somewhere, there must be some records on how many children men have while they are in office too?). But perhaps a more telling and relevant detail — Rodgers is the fourth highest ranking Republican in the House and chairwoman of the House Republican Conference. Her victory came at the expense of the conservative wing of the GOP and signaled a recognition of the party’s need to change course when it comes to women. Rodgers will be messenger in chief to Republican House members, conveying talking points and themes as they look to keep their majority this year. The role has proved to be something of a stepping-stone, with John Boehner, Jack Kemp, Mike Pence and Dick Cheney serving in years past.
Liz Cheney — So far, former vice president Dick Cheney’s daughter has run a race for a Wyoming Senate seat that is just perfect for Oprah’s couch. There was the back-and-forth with her sister, Mary Cheney, a married lesbian, over her opposition to same sex marriage. Then Dick and Lynne Cheney jumped in, playing referee between their daughters. And, meantime, the establishment Republicans in Wyoming are choosing sides. Carefully. It’s been a messy race. And none of the drama has helped Cheney in what was always a long shot bid against Sen. Mike Enzi. The most recent polls (notably, by a SuperPac supporting Enzi) have her down by 50 points. Cheney looks to carve a path to the right of Enzi, who is seeking his fourth term, and position herself as the future of the party. The race will be ground zero for GOP infighting. And even if she loses, Cheney wins by putting herself in a prime position for the next race.
Allyson Schwartz — The five-term congresswoman from Pennsylvania is considered the front runner among a crowded field of Democrats seeking the state’s gubernatorial nomination. If she wins the primary and defeats Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, she would make history as the state’s first woman chief executive. Polls show Corbett to be unpopular with voters — in November only a quarter of Pennsylvania residents approved of the job he was doing — and trailing all of his potential Democratic opponents. The GOP has sought to paint Schwartz as too liberal and polarizing — she is the former executive director of a women’s health center in Philadelphia now run by Planned Parenthood. Although she has consistently led the half-dozen other Democrats who have so far joined the fray. Last year Pennsylvanians elected the first woman and Democrat to the post of attorney general. Schwartz hopes voters will continue make history.
Burning Glass Consulting — Here’s the twitter bio of one of the newest D.C. political consulting firms: “A typical Republican consulting firm? Nope. We’re all about women. Research, strategy and messaging designed by women to win women.” That pretty much sums up what this firm wants to do. Launched in late 2013 by Katie Packer Gage, Ashley O’Connor, and Christine Matthews, veterans of presidential and statewide campaigns, the firm will likely do big business in 2014 as Republicans will likely face female candidates in states like Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas. The Democratic branded “War on Women” has been very effective against Republicans and this firm has an uphill battle in reversing the tide. Democrats have been expert at using not only candidates but conservative media personalities to tag the GOP as anti-woman. To that, the firm tweeted this advice to GOP: “STOP using rape analogies …offensive & disgusting to everyone. Why the preoccupation @rushlimbaugh?” The midterms will certainly be a dry run for 2016 and this firm will certainly have a hand in shaping the course ahead.