There’s no doubt about it: The big winners of last night’s election were women. And not just because we’re the majority of voters and most politicians crawl over each other to appeal to us. Last night, when Tammy Baldwin won her race in Wisconsin, it meant a record number of women would be going on to serve in the Senate come January. Other new female faces joining the Senate are Deb Fischer, Mazie Hirono, Elizabeth Warren, and likely Heidi Heitkamp, though right now it looks like her victory in North Dakota might have to wait until after a recount. All of the new women, except for Nebraska’s Fischer, are Democrats. If Heitkamp wins in North Dakota, it will bring the number of women in the Senate from 17 (with two female Republicans retiring) to 20. In the past 15 years, this number has more than doubled.
Reaction to the Republican war on women played a critical role in getting to this all-time high. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri was expected to lose handily to Rep. Todd Akin, but at least in some part because of his ridiculous remarks about rape and abortion, he lost a state that Romney had in a lock. James Wolcott summed up the entire situation pithily on Twitter:
Memo to Republicans: Try running fewer rape philosophers next time. — James Wolcott (@JamesWolcott) November 7, 2012
Elizabeth Warren’s defeat of Republican incumbent Scott Brown of Massachusetts is less of a surprise. No matter how far she fell behind in the polls in the early days, I personally found it implausible that the state would re-elect a glib head of hair like Brown when they had such a popular Democrat to vote for instead. Still, Warren campaigned heavily against the war on women in order to secure her win. Brown, not one of his party’s crazies, campaigned as a pro-choice candidate, aware that being opposed to legal abortion would hurt him in Massachusetts, but his spotty record on reproductive rights came back to haunt him. Warren singled out his support of the Blunt Amendment, which was a last ditch attempt by Republicans to try to limit insurance coverage for contraception. She also attacked him for not supporting the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was intended to help women achieve pay equity. Warren will be the first female Senator from Massachusetts.
Overall, the election showed an electorate tilting left in the culture wars, with gay marriage finally winning at the ballot box, a restriction on abortion funding going down in flames in Florida, and a president who is routinely characterized by his opposition as a “socialist” and a “radical” winning the election anyway. In this more socially moderate-to-liberal environment, Democrats do better, and since Democrats run more women, women do better.
The result is a big win for all women, not just the female candidates. As Lauren Sandler reported at the Cut earlier this week, female leaders on the Hill tend to fight harder on issues that female voters care about, such as health care and education. The influx of women will likely tug the Senate’s Democratic majority to the left, with Warren and Baldwin taking the lead as passionate advocates for progressive policies.