Joni Ernst. Shelley Moore Capito. Mia Love. Elise Stefanik. They’re all victors of Tuesday’s midterm elections. They’re all women. Oh – and they’re all Republicans.
For those of us who knew the ‘War on Women’ was a manipulative election gimmick from day one, these victories are unsurprising. However, one can assume that liberals who banked on the ‘War on Women’ rhetoric to get them successfully through the 2014 midterms found the results less satisfying. The decision to campaign on ‘women’s issues’ had to be an easy one for candidates like Mark Udall, Wendy Davis, Kay Hagan, and Michelle Nunn. After all, the ‘War on Women’ rhetoric had been working wonders for Democrats in presidential and congressional elections alike, securing President Obama 55% of the women vote in 2012 that arguably won him the race.
But fast forward two years, and the old ‘War on Women’ buzzwords are starting to fall flat. In North Carolina, Cosmopolitan-endorsed candidate Kay Hagan fell short against her competitor Thom Tillis. In Colorado, senatorial candidate Mark Udall elected to focus his efforts almost solely on women’s reproductive rights. Udall was originally favored to win by a long shot, but opponent Cory Garner (who Udall went to extensive lengths to label as a woman-hating bigot) defied the odds and walked away with a win. In Texas, pro-choice activist Wendy Davis’ gubernatorial campaign fell short of the mark, failing to even gain a majority of the female vote, ultimately giving way to conservative opponent Gregg Abbott. The Republican wave during the midterm election seems to have left Democrats in the dust, and wondering why the ‘War on Women’ theme, once so potent, failed to win elections this cycle.
When candidates talk about women’s issues, they generally refer to two main components: access to contraception and access to abortion. The ‘War on Women’ refers to the idea that Republicans seek to deprive women of both concepts. In the past, these issues sold – especially among single women voters. According to the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, President Obama captured 67% of the single women vote in 2012, partly due to his campaign’s focus on ‘reproductive health’. But by focusing too entirely on these policies, lawmakers and candidates reduce women to the sum of their reproductive organs, and not much else.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, 60% of adults living in poverty are women. Women have higher acceptance rates to college than men, but that also means that they’ll drag a hefty burden of student loan debt around with them for years after graduation. Therefore, women are concerned about jobs, unemployment, and underemployment, because those student loan bills aren’t going to pay themselves. Women worry about the housing market, and whether there will be enough money left over after paying off student loans, to purchase a space that they won’t have to share with their five friends from college, especially one that isn’t their parents’ basement.
Women think about the deficit, because they can do simple math and understand that it’s not financially sound to operate in the negative. They wonder how long it’s going to take them, their children, and their children’s children to satisfy trillions of dollars in debt that they didn’t help accrue. Women care about gun ownership, because they understand that it’s crucial to be able to defend themselves and their families if the need should arise. Women are concerned about foreign policy (over 200,000 of them serve in active duty military, after all) and whether their children are safe in their schools and homes from invasion, violence, and disease.
‘Women’s issues’ are everyone issues – and they amount to a lot more than free contraception and abortion availability.
Maybe this sheds some light on why numerous Democratic campaigns aimed at women were unsuccessful this year. Take Mark Udall – after seeing one of his campaign ads insinuating that Cory Gardner intended to rid all pharmacies of condoms and contraceptives, women around Colorado raised an eyebrow and became a little skeptical. What about foreign policy? What about the economy? Women don’t need their elected lawmakers to take care of what their gynecologist already handles for them. Like all Americans, women want strong leaders to step up and take care of actual issues. When forced to choose between Mark ‘Uterus’ Udall who managed to stick the words ‘reproductive health’ into every other sentence, or Cory Gardner who addressed other more pertinent issues, does it really come as a surprise that Colorado chose Gardner?
For years, Democrats invested serious resources to convince women that a vote for a Republican candidate was a vote for their own reproductive demise. For several years women bought it, and many women still do. There are definitely women who prioritize their access to contraption and abortion over all other things, but to assume that ALL women do is an offensive generalization of the priorities of an entire gender.
Republicans have been hammering cracks in the ‘War on Women’ theory for years. But the election of women like Mia Love and Joni Ernst, combined with the rejection of women like Wendy Davis and Sandra Fluke has finally shattered the entire premise on which the ‘War on Women’ operates. It is unforgivably ignorant to assume that Republicans, several of whom are incredible women, are waging a war on the female population of America. They are not. They never were. And it’s refreshing that the American public and the mainstream media are finally beginning to see through the ‘War on Women’ haze that Democrats so gleefully began spewing years ago.
The 2014 midterm elections are undeniably a victory for Republicans. But even more so, they are a victory for women, who have made it quite clear that they’re done with the ‘War on Women,’ and that pandering to their reproductive capabilities is no longer enough to win elections.