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2010 Election - How Did Women Do in the 2010 Election?

Year of Republican Women & Mama Grizzlies May Result in Fewer Women in Congress


Updated November 09, 2010
In an election year highly touted as "The Year of the Republican Women," the gains of female GOP candidates may not offset the overall loss of Congressional seats held by women. With one Senate and three House races still too close to call, there's a chance that when the results are in, there will be fewer women in Congress in 2011 than in 2010.

Losing Ground in Congress

In an assessment of how women fared in the 2010 midterm elections, the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University notes that "women could lose ground in Congress," a significant step backwards after more than 3 decades of forward progress:
The number of women in Congress has not dropped since 1979 and has not stayed level since 1987; either of those outcomes is possible this year. The number of women in the Senate has risen or stayed level every year since 1979.

Mixed Bag for GOP Women

Although a record-breaking 145 Republican women filed to run in Congressional races in 2010, only 52 candidates survived their state primaries. Of that number, 23 won seats -- a number that may rise depending on the results of three undecided races. Still in dispute: one Senate race with Republican Lisa Murkowski who ran as a write-in candidate in Alaska, and two House races with Republicans Renee Elmers of North Carolina and Ann Marie Buerkle of New York.

Of those 145 initial GOP candidates, 17 filed for Senate and 128 filed for House races. After surviving the primaries, 5 went on to run for the Senate and 47 for the House. Only one Senate candidate -- Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire -- won her race, while more well-known candidates like Carly Fiorina (CA), Christine O'Donnell (DE), Linda McMahon (CT), and Sharron Angle (NV) lost. A total of 22 Republican women won House seats.

Democratic Women Still in Majority

In comparison, Democratic women (who traditionally run and win in much larger numbers than Republican women) continued to dominate Congressional races involving women. A total of 153 Democrats filed to run in 19 Senate and 134 House races. After winning their primaries, 9 ran for Senate and 91 for House seats. Approximately half that number won their bids for Congress -- 4 in the Senate, 48 in the House. The four Democrats who won in the Senate included Barbara Boxer (CA), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), and Patty Murray (WA). One incumbent, Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), lost her Senate seat.

Steady Gains Since 1979

If the numbers don't change after the disputed races are settled, when the 112th Congress convenes in January 2011 it will have three fewer women than the 11th Congress because of losses in the House (70 women vs. 73 women, while the Senate is expected to stay steady at 17 if Murkowski wins.)

Since 1979, women have made slow but steady gains in Congress, either winning more seats each year or retaining seats already won. Even with the influx of Republicans courtesy of the midterm elections, the majority of women in the House and Senate still skew toward the Democrats (48 D, 22 R in the House; 12 D, 5 R in the Senate.) Before the Republican takeover, the Democratic margin in the House was even greater when out of 73 women, 56 were Democrats and 17 were Republican in 2010.

A First for the 50th State

The 2010 election sent at least 11 new women to Congress (4 D, 7 R), 5 of whom are women of color (4 D, 1 R.) One notable outcome: by electing women to both House seats, Hawaii became the first state to have an all-female House delegation (other than states with just one House district.)

Big Wins for GOP Governors

Although the "Year of the Republican Woman" did not quite pan out in the majority of Congressional races, it accurately sums up the outcome of the 2010 gubernatorial races. Three new women -- all Republican -- were elected governor in their respective states: Mary Fallin (OK), Susana Martinez (NM), and Nikki Haley (SC). Each woman is the first female to hold her state's highest office, and in the case of Martinez and Haley, they are the first two women of color to serve as governor. One GOP female governor was reelected -- Jan Brewer of Arizona -- and two Democrats not up for re-election remain in office. This brings the total number of women governors in the US to 6 in 2011, down from 9 in 2004 and 2007.

Palin Effect in 2010

Although not a candidate for elected office in 2010, Sarah Palin made her presence known in a number of ways. By establishing and promoting the image of "Mama Grizzlies" -- female bears who rear up on their hind legs to protect their young and strike out against enemies -- she crafted a memorable and engaging political brand that unified a diverse group of GOP women and drew significant media attention to their respective campaigns.

However, this notoriety did not consistently translate into votes for her most talked-about Mama Grizzlies. Despite predicting a Pink Elephant takeover and announcing on a SarahPAC video that "The ETA is November 2, 2010," Election Day brought defeats for some of the most visible candidates she'd personally endorsed, including Senate hopefuls Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle and Carly Fiorina. Palin fared far better with gubernatorial endorsements; three out of five female candidates hand-picked by her went on to win their states.


"Campaign 2010: The Politics of Palin." WashingtonPost.com. 3 November 2010.

"Republican Women Follow National Winning Pattern: Newcomers Take Many House Races, But Only One New Senate Seat, Three New Governors: Many Democratic House Incumbents Fall." Center for American Women and Politics, CAWP.rutgers.edu. 6 November 2010.

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