Women are big this election season. No group is more courted. It’s great! The issues are important. Plus, we all enjoy the occasional pander.
Candidates are re-interpreting their old arguments in a new, woman-centric way. In Michigan, the Democratic Senate candidate defines his opponent’s opposition to Obamacare as a plan to “cut women’s access to mammograms.” In Kentucky, Republican Mitch McConnell has female surrogates claiming that his opponent, Alison Grimes, is trying to convince women that they “can’t graduate from college without raising your taxes.” This appears to be an oblique reference to Grimes’ call for reduced rates on student loans.
The College Republican National Committee has been investing heavily in online ads aimed at fans of the TV show “Say Yes to the Dress,” in which the dresses are named after gubernatorial candidates. If you are in, say, Florida, you'll see a happy young woman trying on wedding gowns, twirling around and announcing that “The Rick Scott is perfect,” while her irritating mother demands that she take the Charlie Crist dress, even though it’s unflattering and costs more money. As a writer in Jezebel noted, it seems to have been made by people who felt the best way to communicate with female voters is “to explain things in terms of bridal wear.”
In Colorado, some commentators have given Democrat Mark Udall the nickname “Mark Uterus” because Udall has run so hard on women’s reproductive rights. It is definitely true that Udall has devoted a prodigious amount of ad-time to the fact that his opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, is a longtime supporter of the personhood movement, which declares all fertilized eggs are human beings. Voters find this idea so unnerving that a personhood amendment to the Constitution was soundly defeated in Mississippi. As well as in Colorado, twice. Where it is on the ballot in November, yet again.
Gardner said he had changed his mind about the state constitutional amendment after it was overwhelmingly rejected in 2010 and he suddenly realized that it would have an effect on contraceptives. He is still a co-sponsor of a federal personhood bill, which he claims is merely “a statement that I support life.” Personally, I can see why Udall might feel that this matter deserves more inquiry.
To rise to the level of hard-core pandering, a candidate has to float free of issues and waft into the ether of personal feelings. Consider Michigan, where Terri Lynn Land, the Republican candidate for Senate, has been running as a person who’s been victimized for being a mother.
The issue here is that Land has developed a tendency to deflect questions by mentioning that she’s a parent. Local columnists have begun to make jokes about it, and there were suggestions that the mom-mentions might make a good drinking game. A spokesperson for Land’s opponent, Gary Peters, said that being a mom was a good thing, but a strange point to bring up when the issue at hand was, say, the Islamic State.
“Well, I’m a mom, and I tell you, moms look at things from their perspective,” Land said in a comment that her staff mass-mailed under the headline “'Well, I’m a Mom,' Terri Lynn Land Fires Back.” Soon, prominent female Republicans were dropping hints that Michelle Obama might want to intervene on behalf of motherhood.
What do you think? How much mom-mentioning is too much? Here in New York, we have a candidate for Congress who’s running under the slogan “Doctor. Mother. Neighbor.” Does that sound a little vague?
One thing we know: Male candidates who get in trouble over issues of sexism are not allowed to get out of it by marshaling all the women in their family to pose for a campaign ad. Really, that’s just one step short of dragging your wife into the news conference where you announce you’re resigning due to those sexting charges.
We are thinking here about Rep. Steve Southerland, a Florida Republican who sent out invitations to a male-only campaign event that suggested his guests “tell the misses not to wait up” because “the after dinner whiskey and cigars will be smooth & the issues to discuss are many.”
Southerland is running against Democrat Gwen Graham, and doing such a swell job of it that in a year that House Republicans are expecting a big sweep, he’s in trouble. Possibly more endangered than the guy in Staten Island who was indicted for perjury and tax fraud shortly after threatening to throw a TV reporter over a Capitol balcony.
When The Tampa Bay Times asked him about the male-only event, Southerland laughed and said: “I live with five women. That’s all I’m saying. I live with five women. Listen: Has Gwen Graham ever been to a lingerie shower? Ask her. And how many men were there?”
Now he’s up with a new ad in which he stands surrounded by his sister, mother, daughters and his wife, who announces: “Steve’s heart is in the right place.”