GOP's Glass Floor?

We're in the midway summer doldrums of the 2010 primaries, so it's a good time to try to make premature analyses of the trends. This blog post is mine, and as my regular readers might have guessed, it will be on the topic of Republican women running for office.

So here's my theory: I suggest that we may be seeing the development of a "glass floor" in the GOP, with women facing extinction at every level of elected office except the two big, high-profile, state-wide offices of US Senate and state Governor.

Just to warn you, I have no explanation for this phenomenon. If you have any theories, please put them as comments -- I'd love to start a conversation on it!

Now, bear with me for the nitty-gritty of the data.

Going into the 2010 elections, women make up just under 10% of all Republicans in the US Senate (4 of 41) and US House (17 of 178). They make up 12% of Republican governors (3 of 24), well under 10% of other major state-wide officeholders (AG, Secretary, Treasurer), and 16% of state legislators (a little less in senates than houses).

Those are miserable numbers, and they have not been going up -- in fact, the raw numbers have been dropping over the past several years, and while that's partly due to the overall decline in elected Republicans, the female percentages of newly elected pols are no better than the existing rates, and in some cases worse.

The 2010 cycle is going to bring in a large number of newly elected Republicans; between filling vacated GOP seats and winning Democratic ones, the GOP could easily elect at least ten freshman Senators (which would be a net gain of 4 seats), 50 freshman in the House (net gain of 30), 20 new Governors, a couple dozen other state-wide officeholders, and some large number of state legislators.

That's either a big opportunity to change the ratios, or to solidify the male-dominated makeup for years to come.

So far, below the Gov/Sen level, the story looks like more of the same -- or worse.

For the US House, 246 of the 435 districts have held their primaries. Aside from the 7 returning incumbents, just 13 Republican women have emerged as nominees, with a 14th -- Martha Roby in Alabama -- favored to win a runoff. Roby, a slight underdog in the general election, would have by far the best chance of those 14; only two others are likely to even be competitive.

Looked at another way, there are 53 districts without a Republican incumbent (ie, an open seat or a Democratic incumbent) that are pretty unanimously rated by analysts as 'Toss-Up' or a Republican advantage -- so, those are the 53 most likely districts to elect a freshman Republican to the House. To date, 23 of those 53 have held their primaries, and all 23 have produced male GOP nominees. Looking ahead, 17 of the remaining 30 have no women candidates, leaving 13 possibilities, and in most of those the women are underdogs.

It's actually possible to imagine this cycle producing zero new Republican women in the House (in fact, a well-informed Swing State Project blogger unwittingly did so recently). More likely, there will be at least two, to make up for the two GOP women leaving the House, and maybe a handful to make the incoming class a similar (embarrassing) 90/10 male/female split as its current status.

Moving down to 'other major statewide offices,' the picture looks bleak as well. Of the 26 states that have held primaries (not all of which have these offices up for election this year), the GOP has nominated 1 woman for AG, 2 for Secretary (including one incumbent), and 1 for Treasurer. (I don't count LGs, many of whom are selected -- by law or in practical effect -- by the Gov candidate.) And the prospects in remaining primaries are similarly dim.

In state legislatures, there's a little too much in the lower houses for me to have fully analyzed, but I have gone through the state senate elections pretty thoroughly. [Please note: Don't expect these numbers to be exact; they are my own compilation, cobbled together from the invaluable Balletpedia, dozens of state web sites, and many other sources.]

A little over half of all state senate seats nationwide are up for election this year; of those that are, 484 are currently held by Republicans -- 64 of whom are women, or 13%. It doesn't appear that the newly-elected Republican state senators this year will have a substantially different rate: where primaries have been held so far, Republicans have nominated women in 5 of 45 open Republican seats (11%), 10 of 70 open Democratic seats (14%), and 18 of 191 races to face an incumbent Democrat (9%). The number of women running in the remaining primaries don't suggest anything different.

OK, now let's look at the races for Governor and US Senator -- the offices above the "glass floor."

Meg Whitman in California, Susana Martinez in New Mexico, and Nikki Haley in South Carolina have already won their Republican primaries for Governor. Mary Fallin is near-certain to do the same in Oklahoma. Karen Handel in Georgia and Rita Meyer in Wyoming appear to have legitimate shots.

Carly Fiorina in California and Sharron Angle in Nevada have won Republican Senate primaries. Barring some freak occurrence, Linda McMahon will win hers in Connecticut. Kelly Ayotte remains the frontrunner in the New Hampshire primary (although no sure thing), and former frontrunner Jane Norton in Colorado has fallen behind Ken Buck but could potentially still beat him. (It's also possible that congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito could run for the newly vacated West Virginia seat.)

So, at least four female GOP nominees for Governor, perhaps more; and at least three for US Senate, perhaps more -- in addition to incumbents Lisa Murkowski in Alaska and Jan Brewer in Arizona.[Update: I should mention that there are a total of 30 governor's races and 24 US Senate races without a Republican incument running for re-election.]

That may not sound like all that many, until I tell you how many non-incumbent women have won Republican primaries, total, in the past 10 years, for Governor and US Senate: 6 and 9 respectively. 

For both offices, that's half of the number from the previous decade, '90-'99.

We obviously don't know how many of these women -- if any -- will go on to win in November. But already the trajectory at those levels seems to be a reversal of recent trends, and the opposite of what's happening at every lower level.

As I warned you up top, I don't have any explanation for this.

It would help if the women having success above that glass floor had some obvious common denominator. I can see one: they are disproportionately in the Southwest. I'm not sure that helps me.

They include women jumping into politics for the first time after successful careers elsewhere, and women who have worked their way up the political ladder. Women who were frontrunners, and women who were underdogs. Women who had Republican establishment backing, and women who went against the establishment candidate.

I do have a few thoughts about what might be happening -- if indeed this really is a legitimate trend -- that I will write up after I've given it more thought. But like I said up top, I would really love to hear anybody else's thoughts on this. Please chime in!
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