HBO’s “Game Change,” adapted from the blockbuster book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, couldn’t have been better timed. It reminded everyone of the history made in 2008 and how the earth shook when the Hillary Effect pushed a woman on to the Republican presidential ticket for the first time in history. It solidified women as official game changers.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. When running against incumbents in districts packed by the opposing party, winning is tough, regardless of gender. In 2010, the number of women declined in Congress for the first time in 30 years, while first-time wins for women in New Mexico, South Carolina and Oklahoma put women at seven governorships nationally. Susan Page reported at the time in USA Today that “47 Republican and 91 Democratic women are on the ballot for the House, along with six Republicans and nine Democratic women for the Senate. … Both totals set records.”
Democrats have the longest sitting female senator in history, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. Counting potential reelections of women Democrats have Senators Feinstein, Stabenow, Klobuchar, Cantwell, McCaskill and Gillibrand, with Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Shelley Berkley of Nevada, Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota all vying for the Senate.
The first Republican and first female elected governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, is running for Senate, too.
Rivaling the marquee contest of Elizabeth Warren-Scott Brown on the Senate side, we’ve now got Iraq war veteran and double-amputee Tammy Duckworth against Joe Walsh on the House side.
In the New York Times in October 2011, Barbara Lee, president of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, whose goal is to get more women “engaged in politics,” made a defining observation: “Men who have the slightly relevant experience will jump in without a second thought. Women need to be recruited and asked multiple times by multiple people in order to consider running.”
And guess who’s covering these stories? Candy Crowley, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric and Christiane Amanpour had their turns, too. Morning shows cast women across all the cable and network channels, with subjects ranging from Afghanistan to the financial crisis, with fluff sandwiched between real news. Al Gore’s CurrentTV added former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm to their primetime lineup, Erin Burnett is on CNN primetime, with Melissa Harris-Perry joining MSNBC where Rachel Maddow has taken up primary hosting. Greta Van Susteren’s reign at Fox News Channel continues, with Megyn Kelly another formidable presence there.
After Andrea Mitchell’s conversation with Susan G. Komen on her MSNBC mid-day show, the furor just got louder. In mid-March The New Yorker reported the Komen Foundation’s big May Awards Gala and fundraiser had been cancelled, the guarantee of it being financially successful gone. The resignations of Komen’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, and the CEO of Komen’s New York City affiliate, punctuated the Foundation’s turmoil.
When Sandra Fluke stood up for mandated contraceptive coverage, it ignited “slut – prostitute” smears from Rush Limbaugh that rocked talk radio and its comfy advertising base, which continues to reverberate.
According to Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock, the group has doubled its members since Speaker Boehner took the gavel, topping 1 million members in hopes of doing just that. President Obama is depending on women, too, because female voters could be his backstop against rising oil prices that are frustrating everyone and over which he has little control.
For Republicans, the year of the woman could mean something else entirely. In Virginia, the transvaginal ultrasound bill that came to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s desk caused such an uproar that it humiliated the Republican vice presidential hopeful. In Pennsylvania, when Republican Gov. Tom Corbett was faced with “The Woman’s Right To Know Act,” a bill that forces women to have a mandatory ultrasound and look at the results before terminating a pregnancy, he said, “You just have to close your eyes.”
Republicans would be wise to listen to Margaret Hoover, who said on Bill O’Reilly’s show, talking about the 2012 presidential election, that “if Republicans make this about social issues, we’re going to lose.” O’Reilly ignored her, which is the Fox News audience’s loss.
HBO’s “Game Change” offered a cautionary tale for all women, as we look out on a political world of wider possibilities. The Hillary Effect is proving again and again that women want to see themselves in other women who are leading and offering solutions. We all saw Hillary Clinton take on the toughest challenge there is and come closer to succeeding than any other woman in American history. The opportunities abound for us today. But to be a game-changer, we better come prepared.