News flash for male political candidates: Trying to mock or shame your female opponents is probably going to backfire on you.
All over the country, women are running for elected office — and winning — in record numbers. This pink wave, fueled in large part by President Donald Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton, is a real phenomenon. And while more Republican women are running, too, Democrats far outnumber their GOP counterparts.
And given all this momentum from women (who are also motivated to vote, by the way) some male candidates are resorting to bullying tactics that aren’t resonating with voters. At least that’s what the polls suggest.
Take the governor’s race here in Michigan. Republican contender Attorney General Bill Schuette has made comparing Gretchen Whitmer, his Democratic opponent, with former Gov. Jennifer Granholm a campaign pillar.
That’s not sitting well with Whitmer. Nor does it seem to be winning broad support, especially with independents. A Detroit News and WDIV-TV poll out this week found that Whitmer leads Schuette by nearly 14 points.
Whitmer has capitalized on the attacks, and in a radio interview, she said: “I’m not going to get distracted by his superficial, sexist barbs.”
Expect that to serve as a rallying cry to Democratic women — and maybe some others.
Patrice Lee Onwuka, senior policy analyst with the Independent Women’s Forum, says given the rise of #MeToo and the wave of women candidates, male candidates should be extra cautious.
“They should be very careful of how they treat their female opponents,” Onwuka says.
Take, for instance, a congressional race down in Kentucky.
The 6th congressional district in that state went for Trump by double digits in 2016. And it was seen as a safe seat for Republican incumbent Rep. Andy Barr. But that race is now considered a toss-up.
Democrat Amy McGrath, political outsider and former Marine combat aviator, is winning over voters. Barr has responded with attack ads, calling McGrath “too liberal” and a “feminist.”
McGrath, like Whitmer, is using the intended barbs to her advantage.
Onwuka points to other examples around the country where sexism is being used to undermine women candidates. Women often are criticized for their appearance, intelligence or whether they can balance motherhood and politics — criticisms men don’t have to endure.
Cori Bush, a Democrat running for Congress in Missouri, has been mocked for the size of her hips and thighs. But she’s fought back and has gotten some high-profile support in the process.
And Rachel Hundley, a millennial councilwoman from Sonoma, California, has called out a group that threatened to “slut-shame” her by exposing some compromising photos from her past in an attempt to get her to drop her re-election campaign.
In a video she posted to YouTube, Hundley says the group was trying to "silence another strong female voice by scaring me out of this election."
"For too long, it has been seen as OK to control women by dictating what is acceptable for us to wear, say and do.”
Democratic strategist Jill Alper is working on several campaigns for female gubernatorial candidates, and she says women traditionally have to overcome a higher barrier when running. But this year is out of the ordinary.
“I think that there are clearly unique things going on where there are more women running and winning and voting,” Alper says.
She also points to how negative attacks against women can work to their advantage. EMILY’s List, a backer of the Women’s March, helps fundraise for Democratic, pro-choice women candidates and gets its name from “early money is like yeast." The idea is that early advertising leads to more attacks from male opponents — and an increased likelihood the woman will win.
You can be sure that’s more true this year than ever before.
“There’s a heightened sensitivity,” Onwuka says. “It would be wise for everyone to be respectful.”