As a woman who wears three-inch high heels on a daily basis, often sprinting in them from one meeting to the next, I want a Senator who understands the issues facing working mothers. That's why I'm voting for Ken Buck Tuesday.
Colorado Democrats have had many reasons to smile in recent weeks, especially as Buck and his U.S. Senate primary opponent, Jane Norton, have duked it out over so-called gender issues. It could have been a real chance for Republicans to debate our party's strategy for attracting female voters. It still can be. And it should.
As an activist Republican, I've long watched with interest Norton's impressive rise within the party. There is no doubting she's attractive, articulate and on message. Earlier this year, GOP insiders smelled victory as they attempted to clear the candidate field for her. Rising star and Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier played nice, vacating his Senate bid to run for the state's 7th Congressional District. Buck, however, decided to stick it out. No one gave him a chance. He now leads in the polls.
Norton's campaign announcement was straight out of the GOP's 2000 playbook. Her pitch was short and sweet, as a "pro-family, pro-marriage, and pro-life" candidate.
On paper, we're identical. But this doesn't mean I want a candidate who sees the government as the vehicle for promoting such values. Why debate gay marriage at all when we should be questioning why we should have state-sanctioned marriage for anyone? Especially in an era when nearly every state recognizes common law unions. How is the government's hand in things going to help combat tragic divorce rates? And why is it that as a mother, I should use my government as a crutch to end unintended pregnancies? It's a recipe for failure.
Republican strategists have spent much of the last decade trying to lure female voters away from Democrats, who now hold a nearly two-to-one gender advantage in some age groups. Too often, they've done so by introducing us to underqualified and tokenized candidates like Sarah Palin. Here's the formula: Find a pretty girl who can give a good speech, put her in a nice suit and have her proclaim her ability to shatter the glass ceiling for all of us little people across the nation.
It didn't work for Palin and it's not working for Norton.
As a former candidate myself, I sympathize with Norton. To a point. If a female candidate smiles too much, she's ditzy. If she doesn't smile enough, she's a man hater. I remain hopeful that as more women hold elected office, such stereotypes and misconceptions will continue to disappear from the public arena. This doesn't mean, however, that Norton's gender will earn my vote Tuesday.
Since learning Buck would stay in the race, Norton has veiled herself in a gender-cloaked message, tirelessly playing the gender card. Vote for her, she has repeatedly urged voters, because Colorado has never had a female U.S. Senator. Remember her as the candidate in high heels.
As Norton's femi-squad traveled the state promoting her chromosomal superiority, Buck's own gender quickly became the target. Responding to independent attack ads launched against her, she responded with TV commercials that responded not to the substance (or lack thereof) of the attacks, but instead questioned Buck's "manhood". Speaking straight into the camera, she said, "You've seen those ads attacking me. They're paid for by a shady interest group doing the bidding of Ken Buck. You'd think Ken would be man enough to do it himself."
Really, Jane? What's gender got to do with it?
I didn't know much about Buck before he announced his Senate candidacy. I had seen him on the front page of the New York Times taking on illegal immigration, and was pleasantly surprised when he came out earlier this year to question federal raids of medical marijuana growers. This is a guy who speaks his mind, listens to voters and doesn't hide behind a strategist. How refreshing.
At a July party hosted by the Independence Institute (full disclosure: I am a policy analyst there), Buck took to the mic to introduce himself to attendees. He then took questions. The first, which came from a woman, posed the following: "Why should we vote for you?"
His reply: "Because I do not wear high heels," was met with a mix of groans and cheers. "[Norton] has questioned my manhood, and I think it's fair to respond. I have cowboy boots, they have real bullshit on them. And that's Weld County bullshit, not Washington, D.C., bullshit."
Never one to miss an opportunity, Norton's handlers leapt into action, with spokeswoman Cinamon Watson telling Politics Daily, "Ken is going to have to use all of his best lawyer-speak to explain this really stupid statement. He may say it's no big deal, but just ask . . . George Allen what a comment like this can do to a statewide race."
With all due respect Ms. Watson, it was a joke. Comparing Buck's lighthearted response to Allen's infamous "Macaca" moment, is out of line. Real women get it. Jane, the gender carder, can attack Buck's biology all she wants. When her opponent responds, she wants us to believe he's a sexist.
Actions speak louder than words. Just a week before Buck's July 22nd "high heels" remark, the Independence Institute's Jon Caldara had Norton on his radio show, where he asked her, "What is the crucial difference between the DA from Weld County, Ken Buck, and the former lieutenant governor?" Norton's view was clear. "Well, I'm a girl first." Caldera then asked "Is being a girl important in this race?" Oh, she was just kidding, she wanted listens to know. "No, it isn't. I was trying to be funny, but it didn't go well."
While Buck was kidding, she wasn't. She indeed wants me to vote for her because she is a girl. Truth be told, I had planned to write this column even before I opened my mail after work yesterday. The batch included a postcard bashing Buck as a sexist. The piece, funded by an independent activist group, (hmm, where's Norton's outrage now?) used his "high heels" comment to suggest that a vote for Buck is a vote for the sexism that once plagued our nation.
But if anyone is taking us back in time, it's Norton. At a recent forum hosted by the Broomfield Republican Women's Club, one woman was overheard saying that Norton's attacks on Buck's gender has taken women back 50 years.
I caught up with Buck Friday. I asked him to explain his take on so-called women's issues. "My wife and daughter are precious to me and any issue that would affect a woman would be of great concern to me also."
Truth be told, Norton's campaign team includes some of Colorado's brightest political minds, including some who I consider good friends. In a tight election, they're doing their job, working tirelessly to edge out a victory in a heated primary they once thought would be a slam duck. In the short term, their tactics may be pulling votes from Buck. Recent polls show that Buck's 17 point lead from June shrunk to just nine points this week.
But any short term political gain for Norton could cause long term damage to women. Voting for Norton because she's a girl is just as bad--or perhaps even worse--than voting against her because she's not a man. Crying wolf about sexism only minimizes harm caused by real discrimination.
It's time to burn the gender card. Real women vote Buck. Regardless of what kind of shoewear we prefer.
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