By Kerry Healey
The media buzz is all about the Tea Party movement, but a second Republican revolution has been quietly afoot.
This November, without fanfare, Republicans are positioned to significantly boost the number of conservative women in top national offices. Right now only four out of 100 U.S. senators are Republican women, and one of these, Alaska’s Senator Murkowsky, will not be returning -- at least, not as a Republican. Out of fifty governors, three are Republican women, but two will retire in January.
Republicans will have an appallingly paltry three women in the U.S. Senate, and one incumbent female governor unless things change dramatically in November 2010. I'm hopeful it will. Why? Because all the Tea Party-induced chaos in the Republican Party seems to have somehow loosed a bumper crop of viable female candidates. And although newcomer Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell is stealing the show, these women have diverse philosophies and formidable qualifications.
Here's the lineup: in races for the U.S. Senate, New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, who fended off a tough primary challenge by a Tea Partier, is polling well. Then there’s California's Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and cancer survivor, who’s mounting an energetic campaign against incumbent Barbara Boxer. Sharron Angle, who's in a tight race with Senate majority leader Harry Reid in Nevada, has embraced the Tea Party label. But the veteran legislator and grandmother of ten was Tea Party before there was a name for it! If these three women were all to win, it would double the number of Republican women expected in the U.S. Senate.
Looking at governor's races, Republican women are positioned to hold ground and make some gains. Meg Whitman, the billionaire former CEO of eBay, is flooding the airwaves in California. Long-time lieutenant governor and Congresswoman Mary Fallon is polling well in Oklahoma and state legislator and Tea Party favorite Nikki Haley seems headed to South Carolina's governor's mansion.
While the raw numbers are small, the percentage gains would be dramatic in arenas where there's been no progress for Republican women in years. Why have these successful women come forward to seek higher office only now? Maybe it's because the Tea Party movement has challenged the hold of the Republican establishment on the nominating process, and empowered all conservatives to enter the electoral fray. If so, then I'm grateful to the Tea Party movement for shaking things up. Some change can be good -- even for conservatives.