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Women candidates make history on election night

Jared Christman, Assistant News Editor
November 14, 2012
Filed under News, Top Stories

President Barack Obama’s re-election may have been the highlight of the night for many Americans, but he was not the only major winner on election night.

Women candidates took the electorate by storm, making major gains on all levels of government and leaving their mark on political history

1992 was called the “Year of the Woman” after seven female candidates were voted into the U.S. Senate. On election night 2012, five female senators were elected to office, bringing the current total to 20. With 76 women to serve in the House of Representatives, there are nearly 100 women serving in Congress — the most ever.

Following a closely contested race against Tommy Thompson, R-Wis., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., was among those women who set course to make history.  Baldwin will also be the first woman elected to Senate from Wisconsin, as well as the first openly gay member in the legislative body.

In her acceptance speech on election night, Baldwin told her supporters she didn’t run to make history.

“I ran to make a difference,” Baldwin said, “a difference in the lives of families struggling to find work and pay their bills; a difference in the lives of students worried about debt — and seniors worried about their retirement security; a difference in the lives of veterans who fought for us and need someone fighting for them and their families; a difference in the lives of entrepreneurs trying to build a business and working people trying to build some economic security. But in choosing me as the person to tackle those challenges, the people of Wisconsin have made history.”

Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was also a winner. Warren faced a tough battle against incumbent Scott Brown, R-Mass., who won his seat in Senate following the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2009.

Viewed as one of the most important races for Democrats to control the Senate, Warren and Brown were neck and neck for months. In the last few weeks, polls found Warren ahead, and come election night, she swept the state, winning 54 percent of the vote. Like Baldwin, Warren has also set history in her state — she will be the first woman elected to Senate from Massachusetts.

Democrat Claire McCaskill’s victory over Republican Todd Akin in Missouri was also seen as a victory for women. Akin sparked a controversy in August when he said victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant because the female body “has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”

Democrats were not the only ones to make history though. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., is among the five new female senators to join Congress. She overwhelmingly defeated Democrat Bob Kerrey, garnering 58 percent of the vote. Fischer is set to become the first female senator from Nebraska.

However, Fischer was one of few Republican women celebrating — following the election, the number of Republican women in Congress has dropped.

While Republicans are making efforts to court more female and minority candidates, it remains a growing concern in the party.

According to Angela Bauer, UWGB associate professor of women’s and gender studies, a reason for this could be candidates’ lack of support for women’s rights.

“As of late, there seems to be a push toward taking steps backward in terms of limiting women’s ability to regulate fertility, which then impacts their ability to pursue careers and participate in other aspects of society,” Bauer said. “We represent half the population, we deserve to be heard as well.”

Bauer said electing female candidates is important in order to ensure equal rights for women. While she described the increase in female politicians as gradual, she said it is promising.

“There’s a trend toward us seeing greater representation of women in Congress,” Bauer said. “It’s a little slow going, but it’s going in the right direction.”