Concerns About Women Voters Extend Beyond Obama/Romney Battle For Both Parties

Women are going to be a crucial voting block in the fall

April 13, 2012 -- The controversy over Ann Romney and working moms hits Democrats in their sweet spot. They have tried to criticize Republicans for supporting policies they say would hurt women. And in the race for control of the Senate, Democrats have a lot at stake because they'll have far more women on the ballot.

In fact, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has begun to tout a message that 2012 will be a historic year for women in the Senate. The committee has endorsed 11 female candidates, five challengers in addition to six incumbents facing re-election.

Democrats have a majority of seats in the Senate, currently 53 to 47. But they also have the majority of seats up for re-election, 23 out of 33. Losing four of these seats without picking up any new ones would mean that Republicans would gain the majority.

With this in mind, the math becomes clear: The Democratic path to maintaining the majority will run through the party's female candidates.

Historically speaking, there has not been a strong correlation between female candidates and female support, i.e. women don't automatically vote for women, explains Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

"Women don't vote as a block for women candidates, they're ideologically diverse," says Walsh.

However, women are more likely to vote Democrat, adds Walsh. "They're more likely to register as Democrats, even among the more Independent women, they're more likely to lean Democratic."

With this in mind, one can see why courting that female vote is especially important to Democrats.

But it's not just Democrats who need to court women voters. Republican hopes for a majority in the Senate involve female candidates as well.

There are currently four female Republican Senate candidates running in hotly contested races where Republicans are looking to pick up seats from Democrats -- Missouri, Connecticut, New Mexico and Hawaii. In each of those states these female candidates will face a primary battle, though in Hawaii, Connecticut and New Mexico it looks likely, based on polling, that the female candidate will emerge as the party's nominee.

If Republicans can pick up even one of these seats, they'll be in a much better position to take back the majority.

Exit polls from the 2010 midterm elections suggest that having a woman on the Republican ticket makes no difference to female voters. They still tend to lean toward Democrats, regardless of the gender on both sides of the ballot.

However, those same exit polls show that in the majority of cases where a Republican woman won her election, she carried the female vote, in addition to the male vote.

Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer carried women 51 percent over her Democratic opponent Terry Goddard who only got 46% of the female vote. New Hampshire's Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte won the lady vote by a double digit margin; 55 percent of women voted for Ayotte, 43 percent supported her Democratic opponent Paul Hodes.

The only female candidate who lost the women vote and won her race was Nikki Haley- and she lost that voting block by a very narrow margin. The Republican governor of South Carolina took 49 percent of the women vote, while 50 percent of women who voted supported the Democrat, Vincent Sheheen.

To be sure, there were other issues at play in the losses of several of the other female Republican Senate candidates. Still, you can be sure that Republicans have taken notice of these numbers, and they don't want to alienate women voters either.

Like the race for the White House, the race for the Senate is the Democrats to lose however, and you can bet that the last thing they want is to upset Democratically leaning stay at home moms- or any other women who may be inclined to vote for their candidates.