10/17/2014 03:28 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2014

Women Be Damned: Of Politics and the Plays They Run

Can women in politics run the same plays as men? For Alison Lundergan Grimes and Wendy Davis, one wonders if the system and society will let them run any at all? Viewed through the prism of The Standard Table of Influence, their campaigns suggest that neither soft nor hard plays work.


Witness Kentucky Secy. of State Alison Lundergan Grimes who wants to be a blue U.S. senator in a red state. But being a good Democrat, she bears the weight of an enormously unpopular president and a veteran Republican incumbent who knows his bluegrass voters -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Odds are, McConnell has made sure that reporters have asked his opponent, "Did you vote for the president?" Simple. Clever. Killer question.

In their debate this week, Grimes was asked it once more. And again, she sought shelter in friendly, framing strategies that shift context. But her plays conveyed as suspicious deflects or red herrings. "Our constitution grants here in Kentucky the right for privacy at the ballot box, for a secret ballot," she lightly lectured. "I'm not going to compromise a constitutional right provided here in Kentucky in order to curry favor on one or other side, or for members of the media."

McConnell countered first with a Trump, cheerfully volunteering his voting record for Mitt Romney and John McCain. Then, when Grimes attempted to cast herself as a Clinton (not Obama) Democrat he ran a simple Recast, saying, "There's not a dime's worth of difference between the two." Barely one media cycle later, Grimes awoke to the news that the DNC was pulling its media dollars and moving on, presumably to more viable campaigns.

The Crazy Ivan, defined as "the deliberate acceleration by a threatened player of an impending attack or problem," might have been Grimes' better option. It might have inspired these responses:

  • Of course I voted for the president, you all know that. And now by demanding to know this you've robbed me of my right to privacy.
  • I did vote for the president, and I wished at the time, as I do now, that there were other choices.
  • You're asking me to say something I don't want to say. If the answer is yes, I'll be painted as an Obama Democrat, which I am not. If the answer is no, I'll be painted as a liar. Are you done having fun with me?
  • A hint of the Red Herring might have worked as well. To shake her rival's skeletons she might have dared, You want to play gotcha? I'll answer that question when Mitch McConnell releases his medical and service discharge records.


In Texas, State Senator Wendy Davis wants to be governor. Like Grimes, her opponent is an entrenched Republican whose most notable point of difference is the wheelchair that serves his paralyzed legs -- Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

To the typical politico, this might seem like something to tip-toe around, but Davis -- the gunslinger that Grimes is not -- has used it as 11th hour target practice. By way of a provoking play, the Call Out, she has aired this ad, giving Abbott no love for his pain and suffering and casting him as a hypocrite for his callous rulings against similarly stricken accident victims.

To no one's surprise but perhaps Davis', callous is the label that's been slapped on the state senator, even by left-leaning pundits who see the ad as out of bounds. But Davis is nothing if consistent, battling back without a blink, insisting on and repeating her premise that Abbott is a hypocrite, however handicapped. She has run the riskier plays and derived the notoriety she needs to win. But the question is whether or not her plays will be judged as more skillful than mean and more of what Texans want in a new governor.

In Kentucky, they've probably decided that Mitch is still their man. Grimes is too soft, too liberal, and too much in the mold of Obama. In Texas, they might like Davis better, except of course that she shot up that nice crippled man...

To play nice or play rough? For Grimes or Davis there are no obvious answers and there's the lingering sense that maybe women aren't supposed to run any plays at all.