The XX factor: Women to watch in 2014
By: Katie Glueck
January 5, 2014 07:02 AM EST
Women are front-and-center in some of the biggest races of 2014, and some of them bring serious star power to their contests.
Both Democratic and Republican party insiders are enthusiastic about several top-flight female recruits. Still, it’s too soon to say if the midterm results will match the banner year women had two years before, when the number of female senators shot to a record 20 and women’s representation in the House also climbed.
In at least one race, the candidate’s gender has crept up in attacks from opponents, while one key contest features two high-profile women. As the midterms approach, here are 10 female politicians to keep an eye on:
Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-Ky.)
The Kentucky secretary of state is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in what could be the marquee Senate contest of the midterms, and one recent survey put Grimes in a dead heat with the powerful five-term incumbent.
The party establishment has rallied around Grimes, 35, who emerged as a credible candidate in a race that liberal actress Ashley Judd once briefly looked poised to enter.
Grimes, who comes from a prominent Kentucky political family, has proven to be a strong fundraiser, shoring up support from big-ticket donors including movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg. But McConnell, who currently faces a primary challenger, is an institution in this deep-red state, and Grimes has so far steered clear of wading too deep into hot-button issues like Obamacare — a luxury she won’t have once the race heats up.
Her gender has not gone unnoticed. National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Brad Dayspring once called Grimes an “empty dress,” and another NRSC staffer was punished for superimposing a picture of Grimes’s head onto a photo of the viral music video star “Obama Girl.” Democrats pounced on both incidents, a preview of how ugly this race could get.
Terri Lynn Land (R-Mich.)
Republicans hope that this former Michigan secretary of state gives the GOP a chance to play offense in typically blue territory.
Land, 55, is seeking the seat vacated by the retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). She served two terms as secretary of state and is Michigan’s Republican National Committeewoman, a prominent position in the party. While national Republicans initially had their eye on other contenders, including Rep. Dave Camp and Rep. Mike Rogers, the party establishment is all in for Land now, and she has already been the beneficiary of a fundraiser headlined by prominent Republicans including McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
GOP operatives point to her fundraising abilities: she raked in $1 million in three months and pitched in another $1 million of her own. Several polls show her either competitive with or ahead of likely Democratic opponent Gary Peters, a current congressman.
Alex Sink (D-Fla.)
Democrats are energized about Sink, and they hope that if she wins a Florida special election in March, that victory will generate momentum for the party heading into Election Day in November.
Sink, 65, served as chief financial officer of the Sunshine State and touts a business background. She’s running for the seat in Florida’s 13th district, which had been held by Rep. Bill Young, who died this fall. Young, a Republican, held the seat since 1970, but the district is considered a swing region. She recently posted impressive fundraising numbers, pulling in $1.1 million between Oct. 1 and Dec. 25.
Sink ran for governor in 2010 against Rick Scott, and although she lost, she boosted her name recognition in the process. Her shot at the House seat has already been backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List. Republican contenders for the seat — among them a woman, state Rep. Kathleen Peters — are battling it out in a primary contest set for January.
Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Natalie Tennant (D-W.Va.)
These two high-profile West Virginia women both want to be their state’s first female senator.
Capito, 60, is a Republican in her seventh term in Congress and is considered the favorite in the race, which is unfolding in a state where Obama is deeply unpopular. Tennant, 46, is also a known quantity in West Virginia, having served as secretary of state and as a television anchor.
The seat is being vacated by the retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat. Mitt Romney won West Virginia in 2012 by about 27 percentage points. But Democrats have traditionally dominated statewide races, and Tennant has received the backing of national Democratic groups.
The contest looks likely to center on coal, a key issue in this Appalachian state, as well as on the health care law.
Wendy Davis (D-Texas)
The Texas state senator grabbed the national spotlight over the summer when she filibustered a restrictive abortion bill, energizing Democrats aiming to turn the Lone Star State blue down the road. Now, the 50-year-old Democrat is running for governor as a fiscal moderate with a particular emphasis on education.
Winning statewide in Texas is a long shot for any Democrat, especially one like Davis, who isn’t considered conservative by the Lone Star State’s deep-red standards. But Davis ignited a groundswell of enthusiasm from her party, in and out of Texas, and enjoys support from groups such as EMILY’s List and Battleground Texas, a grassroots effort launched by alumni of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. As a single mother who overcame a tough childhood to graduate from Harvard Law School, she also offers a compelling personal story.
Her opponent is Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican attorney general. He entered the race with a $25 million war chest, dwarfing Davis’ initial $1 million, though she has already been feted at several Washington fundraisers by high-profile Democrats.
Mia Love (R-Utah)
In late 2012, polls showed that Love, the congressional candidate who brought down the house at the Republican National Convention, looked like a strong bet to defeat incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat in Utah’s Fourth District. Her loss was a stinging blow to the GOP.
This time around, Matheson isn’t running, and the Republicans are confident that Love, a 38- year-old mayor of Saratoga Springs, who is also black and Mormon, can pick up the seat. She lost narrowly last time, and, this time around, observers say the candidate is more experienced and will have smarter messaging. The former city councilwoman is emphasizing a pro-business, limited government agenda likely to resonate in Republican Utah.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has launched a new recruitment and promotion effort aimed at women called Project GROW. “Thanks to our women members leading the effort with the NRCC’s Project GROW, we have more women in competitive races than ever before,” said the organization’s spokeswoman, Andrea Bozek.
Michelle Nunn (D-Ga.)
As in Kentucky, national Democrats see typically red Georgia as a potential Senate pick-up opportunity. In Georgia, however, it helps to have a candidate with the last name Nunn.
The 47-year-old daughter of popular former Sen. Sam Nunn cuts a moderate profile as the CEO of a nonprofit tied to President George H.W. Bush and already has demonstrated fundraising chops. Along with Grimes, Davis and Sink, Michelle Nunn is featured prominently on the website of EMILY’s List, a Democratic group that aims to boost female candidates supportive of abortion rights.
“If you look at some of the key races for Senate, where we need to hold the Senate, you’re looking at races in Kentucky, West Virginia and Georgia, which are just huge opportunities for us,” said EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock. That organization has already endorsed more women candidates at this point in the cycle than they did in 2011.
Nunn has been crisscrossing the state, including on an “entrepreneurship tour,” while a slew of Republicans are battling it out for their party’s Senate nod. Democrats hope that the GOP primary, in which the candidates are competing for the mantle of most conservative, will deeply damage the eventual nominee in time for the general election.
Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)
An open Senate seat in Iowa has generated a packed GOP primary field, and Ernst is one contender to watch.
The 43-year-old state senator and gun-rights advocate served in Iraq and is a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. She is running as a “mother, a soldier” and a “conservative.”
Influential Gov. Terry Branstad (R) hasn’t taken sides in the primary, but he has said he is “particularly intrigued” by Ernst, while his lieutenant governor, Kim Reynolds, has endorsed her. Whoever emerges victorious from the six-way GOP primary field will go on to face Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat who has his party’s backing.
Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.)
The New Hampshire governor looks poised to cruise to re-election this year. Then it’s a question of what’s next.
There’s already speculation that Hassan could mount a challenge to Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) in 2016, and a resounding victory in November will only intensify that chatter .
Hassan, who in 2012 helped give New Hampshire a set of all-female leaders in Washington and Concord, will be an in-demand surrogate for Democratic presidential hopefuls with an eye on the first-in-the-nation primary state.
And touring the Granite State with Hillary Clinton — a possible 2016 contender and another woman to watch this year — could only help raise Hassan’s profile.