"This is not a bake-off -- get your man-pants on."
So said Delaware Republican Senate candidate and Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell in a radio interview just days before the state primary. The message to Republican opponent Mike Castle was clear: Elections are tough. Get out there and campaign like a man.
The implication, of course, was that Castle had been campaigning like a woman -- or even less desirable in the charged world of gender and politics -- like a girl. As Anne Kornblut recently noted in the Washington Post, O'Donnell isn't the only candidate this year calling on a Democratic male challenger to "man up." We've heard similar demands in races throughout the country, from Nevada's Sharron Angle to New York's Carl Paladino. But the key to progressive wins this year isn't manliness, or even men. It's women voters.
History shows that women are a critical voting bloc, outnumbering men at the polls in every Presidential election since 1964. In 2008 we outvoted men by a margin of almost 10 million, reclaiming progressive control of the Senate and House and electing our country's first African-American President.
Women are positioned to prove our voting power again this November. A recent Time magazine poll shows that women voters in Washington state and Delaware may act as a buffer for Democratic candidates in two hotly contested Senate races. Women also may determine a tight Senate race in California, where Sen. Barbara Boxer has only a small lead against a conservative opponent with deep pockets. In Nevada, the latest Rasmussen poll shows Sharron Angle slightly ahead of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, with women supporting Reid over Angle by roughly 20 percentage points. Without women's votes, Reid could lose his seat to one of the most right-wing candidates on the ballot this November.
But there is doubt about how many women will vote this year. As The New York Times pointed out in September, the Democratic "enthusiasm gap" is especially pronounced among women voters and may lead women to stay home on Election Day. Because women tend to favor Democratic candidates, that would mean an overall decline in votes for Democrats. It also would mean a critical -- and possibly decisive -- shift to support for Republicans.
I understand the frustrations and discouragement of women voters, but there is simply too much at stake to sit this one out. Men are more energized this year, and are also more likely to support conservative candidates. If women choose not to vote in this election, we are letting men speak for us. We are also allowing a right-wing shift in Congress that could roll back the clock on jobs and the economy, reproductive rights, health care, and equality for LGBT people. At the state level, a majority of Republican Governors would mean a reactionary approach to these issues. It would also give conservatives control of the redistricting process, which could stack the deck in favor of Republicans for decades to come.
As women, we must exercise our power to change the course of the midterm elections. The message for progressive women this year is clear: Elections are tough. Get out there and vote like a girl.