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If the 1992 election was “The Year of the Woman,” then 2010 may well be dubbed the year of the Mama Grizzly. But a look at the nationwide results from the 2010 midterms show a much more complex picture. There were Mama Grizzlies who roared, and others who got bit and sent back into hibernation. And there were a couple of ladies who aren’t Mama Grizzlies but who still left their imprint on the electorate this year. Below, a look at the ladies who mattered in this year’s midterm elections, and those whose names you may well be reading for the very last time on this site as the countdown begins on the end of their fifteen minutes of political fame.
4 & 5) Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama (aka The White House Warriors)
What a difference two years can make. During the 2008 campaign while America was enjoying a love affair with her husband Michelle Obama was best known as the most polarizing presidential campaign spouse since….well since her husband’s then rival Hillary Clinton. While Hillary rubbed a lot of stay at home moms the wrong way back in ’92, Michelle was believed to rub a lot of white America the wrong way. Her comment regarding pride for her country solidified her image as the ultimate angry black woman throughout the campaign, and then something extraordinary happened. America got to know her and Americans who once had a crush on her husband fell head over heels in love with her. Her approval ratings have consistently topped his since the inauguration, so much so that she was dispatched to a number of swing states to help struggling Democrats like Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray and even Majority Leader Harry Reid reconnect with some of the women voters they had begun to lose. Looks like the Mom-in-chief delivered. Perhaps Obama’s best hope in 2012 is to switch the Obama on the ticket.
While more flashy aides were garnering the majority of the ink (think Desiree Rogers and Rahm Emmanuel) Valerie Jarrett was always there, usually in the background, not trying to win headlines but trying to plot wins for the president’s long-term legislative and political agenda. Since his presidential run she has played a crucial role in helping the president connect with black voters, some of whom — it’s hard to believe now — he once struggled with. In a famous tale recounted in the New York Times Magazine, she successfully convinced the president to attend an event for one of the largest black sororities in the nation, when no other aide could; an event credited with helping him with black voters in South Carolina at the height of the primary contest. Jarrett has continued to serve as a crucial bridge between the president and his base of black supporters, playing a key role in the White House’s more aggressive efforts to court the black blogosphere and making herself (and the president) more accessible to media outlets and organizations serving communities of color. The result? Though we’re all still analyzing voter demographic data, Black voters were expected to play key roles in Democratic victories in races in California and other tight contests, among them the Nevada Senate race.
3) Niki Haley
While Democrats continue to talk the talk on diversity, this year Republicans walked the walk — and walked circles around Democrats in the process, running a record number of candidates of color, while high profile Democrats of color struggled to maintain the backing of their party faithful. (Kendrick Meek anyone?) Strangely enough South Carolina, once the heart of the Dixiecrat segregationist movement has given us two possible future GOP stars of color: Tim Scott, an African-American who beat the son of the late South Carolina legend Strom Thurmond in a primary on his way to Congress.
But perhaps no 2010 GOP candidate is more representative of the GOP’s efforts to broaden “its tent” racially speaking, than South Carolina’s Niki Haley. The telegenic Indian American who graced the cover of Newsweek as “the face of the New South” might as well have been labeled “the face of the new GOP” because for the next few years we are going to be seeing her face everywhere, as Republicans attempt to position her as the new Condi Rice; a woman of color who symbolizes the American Dream and who the GOP hopes to turn into a symbol of their party. As the first Asian American female Governor, and one who has already weathered a major scandal and survived, she is one of the few Mama Grizzlies whose roar Democrats should fear for years to come. But she’s not the only one…
2) Susana Martinez
In a year in which immigration has emerged as one of the most divisive issues in the nation, and GOP candidates find themselves on the defense for some of the party’s more racially inflammatory language and imagery, Susana Martinez made history by becoming the first Latina Governor in America. Did I mention she’s a Republican?
Like her GOP grizzly sister Haley, expect to see Martinez move front and center onto the national stage as one of the new faces of the GOP, and with New Mexico being a swing state, don’t be surprised if, like another novice female Governor two years ago, she emerges on the shortlist of 2012 GOP Vice-presidential candidates.
To read the rest of Keli’s list, plus “5 Women who will be the Answer to a Trivia Question by tomorrow”, click here.