Democratic operatives believe that the candidacy of Christine O'Donnell (R-Del.) -- whose provocative past statements have been widely mocked -- will end up being objectionable to a wide swath of voters, chief among them females.
A seasoned campaign hand told the Huffington Post on Thursday that the party stands to benefit from not weighing in too heavily on the controversies of O'Donnell's past -- better to let them stand on their own. But with respect to remarks she made that could be offensive to women, it's clearly advantageous to make those views known.
Not surprisingly, on Thursday, the Democratic National Committee went to town with a mid-'90s quote of O'Donnell's in which she argued that integrating women into "particular military institutes" would cripple "the readiness of our defense." Later that afternoon, another quote was unearthed in which O'Donnell said a wife should "submit herself graciously" to her husband.
Even the locals are getting in on the act. In an interview with the Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel, O'Donnell's opponent, Chris Coons, took O'Donnell to task for her comments on the combat-readiness of female troops. Noting that his sister-in-law served in the Army Reserves and that she personally knew "a number of senior officers who are women," the New Castle County Executive accused O'Donnell of possessing a "narrow social agenda"
At a time when we are still at war overseas, it is important for us to continue to conduct ourselves in defending America in a way that reflects our country's best values, and one of those core values is tolerance and inclusion and equality and integration. One of my political heroes is Harry Truman, and I think one of the best decisions he ever made was integrating the armed forces. At the time, this is now 60 years ago, there were commanders and folks in the community who said that was foolish and unwise and it would degrade readiness in the field, and that was absolutely wrong. Some of the most decorated, most outstanding flag officers and soldiers in this country's history have come from every background, every gender, every race, every orientation.
I just think this reflects a narrow social agenda, and that's really not what I think Delaware's working families and Delaware's voters want to focus on. I think folks want to hear about getting the economy back on track, fixing what's wrong with Washington, tackling spending and the debt, making America competitive again. Those are the things this election is about. It's not about a narrow social agenda.
Coons was, of course, only addressing the tip of the iceberg. And it stands to reason that, as the campaign progresses, his efforts to draw female voters away from his opponent's own gender barrier-breaking candidacy will only heighten. In addition to coming out against female combat service, O'Donnell has argued that abortion should be outlawed even in cases of rape and incest. She's also been a fairly vocal opponent of the feminist movement, telling C-SPAN in December 1996 that she thought it had gone too far.
"We have lost a sense of cultural chivalry," she said. "While the feminist movement emerged from a lot of legitimate issues -- women weren't getting the respect that they deserved. It has almost kind of backfired on us in a way in that [now] a man [isn't] sure if he held a door open for a women, if he would get slapped or thanked. So that has a lot to do with it. Men are basically confused today as to what is the appropriate way to treat a woman? Would she be offended if I came to her defense or will she be thankful."