A Wipeout of Democratic Women?

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Women in Congress are expected to be a casualty of this year’s midterm elections, with net losses anticipated in the House and likely in the Senate. Though the GOP has touted its “Mama Grizzlies” and a record number of women are running for Congress, Democrats fear that 2010 will be year of the “women’s wipeout,” with almost a quarter of the 56 female House Dems considered vulnerable. But as my friend and former colleague Marin Cogan explains, this is more than just a numbers game, as these Democratic women have had a distinctive impact on Congress and the culture of Capitol Hill itself. Cogan points out in her latest Politico story that these women have spearheaded major legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the original Violence Against Women Act, created a Democratic Women’s Working Group, and risen to senior leadership positions, among other glass ceiling-shattering accomplishments:

Each of the female senators on the chopping block have been history makers: California’s Barbara Boxer as the first chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln as the first chairwoman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and Washington’s Patty Murray as a prominent member of Senate Democratic leadership.

The story also points out the fundamental shifts under Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, which stand to be undercut if Democrats lose the majority this fall:

Pelosi has had an enormous impact not only on policy…but also on the culture of Capitol Hill and the framing of legislative debates. 

“After passing this bill, being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition,” Pelosi declared on the House floor the night health care reform passed — repeating a mantra that would guide her throughout the health care debate.

Under her tenure, women have held key leadership positions…Pelosi also recruited Democratic women on the campaign trail, creating a girls’ club to counteract the old boys’ network that’s long dominated congressional politics… “It was never easy,” to be a woman in Congress in the pre-Pelosi era, Sanchez said. “The men didn’t really guide us and help us work on that. Nancy has done it completely differently.”

The arrival of newly elected Republican women in Congress could certainly alter the gender politics of Capitol Hill once again. But given their politics, the protégés of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are also likely to try to undermine the legislative accomplishments of their Democratic counterparts.

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