Dixie Chicks: Southern Women Fuel Senate Midterms


Mary Landrieu is one of four southern Democratic women looking to help Democrats keep the Senate in the 2014 elections.

Katie Fuselier

Though the House of Representatives will almost surely remain in the hands of the Republicans after this year’s midterm elections, control of the U.S. Senate is in flux. Republicans are looking to take back the Senate and control the entire Legislative Branch for the last two years of the Obama Administration, but Democrats are trying hard to keep their hands on their former majority. With 36 Senate seats up for grabs and ten considered by Politico to be close, the margin by which one party takes control of the chamber may be close. Of those close races, four stand out in particular.

Almost all of the southeastern states have Senate seats up for grabs this year. For some, the idea of a Southern Senate election may conjure images of old, white men campaigning against one another, picture perfect families in tow. Even more, recent Southern tradition indicates that the Republicans should have a stronghold in the region. In Louisiana, North Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky, though, this is not necessarily the case.

In each of those four states, conservative men are running against Democratic women. Two, Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan, are incumbents, and two, Michelle Nunn and Alison Lundergen Grimes, are challenging established Republican seats. All four of the races have been close for months, and while Lundergen has fallen behind Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, polls cannot predict whether Landrieu, Hagan, or Nunn will prevail.

It is interesting, though, that Democrats in four of ten Southern states with seats open are running women. Party officials on both sides of the aisle agree that these four seats could determine the fate of the Senate this year. It may very well be that the backing of women candidates in these states was an intentional strategic maneuver designed to strengthen control in the largely conservative South.

The strategy worked to an extent in 1996 and 2008, when Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan, respectively, won office. Neither woman, though, had gone up against a male, Republican force as strong as those in the 2014 elections.

This year, it seems that the Democratic Party is attempting to expand its success in North Carolina and Louisiana. Both Landrieu and Hagan are facing much more divisive races demographically; Landrieu first ran and won to fill fellow Democrat John Bennett Johnston, Jr.’s seat in 1996 and Hagan won in 2008 against another woman, Elizabeth Dole. This year, their opponents better fit the image of a traditional Southern candidate.

Grimes and Nunn are the second half of the Democratic strategy; either of their successful challenges against conservative men could, if Landrieu and Hagan keep their seats, mean that Democrats continue to hold the Senate for the last two years of the Democratic administration. Nunn, in particular is presenting a considerable challenge against Republican David Perdue though the race is too close to call.

The Democratic strategy makes sense where demographics are concerned. On average across the nation, women vote more than men by four percentage points. If Democrats can capitalize on this majority, they have a greater chance of success. The women’s vote, combined with the already majority-Democrat African American vote, may be enough to surpass the majority-Republican white male vote.

In a year where is seems that Republicans are gaining strength against the Democratic Administration and Senate, these few races will be decisive. Democrats, since 2010, have struggled against the rising force of the Conservative Republicans, and the midterm elections this year may decide whether they remain powerful in the Legislature. These four female candidates will be key to maintaining this Democratic strength.

[Image Credit: http://www.thenation.com/sites/default/files/mary_landrieu_la_ap_img.jpg]