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US voters celebrate Women’s Day

US voters celebrate Women’s Day

Did the voters in primary elections scattered across the US somehow conflate election day with women’s day? In hard-fought battles in California, Arkansas, Nevada and South Carolina, among other states, women are the apparent victors in several key elections.

In California, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, two political neophytes, but business pros, won Republican races for chances to run for senator and governor against Democratic opponents. Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, will face former governor Jerry Brown in the November general election. Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett Packard (now HP) will take on incumbent senator Barbara Boxer.

Both Fiorina and Whitman are conservative Republicans who argued they hope to apply tough, no-nonsense business principles as public office holders and both used some real chunks from their personal fortunes to finance their primary victories.

California voters also approved the controversial measure that would replace the traditional primaries in state and Congressional elections with a new system of two rounds of voting in which all candidates would run in the first round and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, would face each other in the general election. By supporting this, California, traditionally a leader in innovative, more popular government, seems to be leading again with the newest version of reforms.

In Arkansas, incumbent Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln held off a furious challenge by the state’s lieutenant governor Bill Halter, despite his strong support from organised labour. Lincoln now will face Republican congressman John Boozman in November. Republicans have already marked this race as a “must-win”.

Photo: US Senator Blanche Lincoln. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Over in South Carolina, state representative Nikki Haley, one of the new breed of politically active South Asian-Americans, came close to a win, but will still have to participate in a run-off with her closest challenger, representative Gresham Barrett for the Republican nomination for that state’s governorship. In her campaign, Haley shrugged off a veritable torrent of abuse and racy innuendo about her personal life that would have done the National Enquirer proud as she was accused of being unfaithful to her husband with two other men. In her campaign she drew on support from those now-ubiquitous “tea party” activists as well as an endorsement from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Meanwhile, in Nevada, struggling Democratic majority leader Harry Reid will face yet another female candidate, tea party favourite, Republican Sharron Angle, in November. Angle apparently won from an unlikely combination of conservative supporters, plus friends of the incumbent who seem to have decided she would be the easiest Republican to beat in November. (Some states have open primaries that permit voting across party lines, thereby blurring the kind of statement partisan voters made in these primaries.)

Political analysts say that much, but clearly not all, of this voting in these primaries represents an anti-incumbent trend as recent national polling says a majority of American voters say they plan to vote for people who are not current office holders to express their anger with decisions that have come out of the Washington political process. All of these races took place against a background that included the lingering impact of the Great Recession, continuing unemployment hovering near 10% and the newest downer, the BP oil spill, that fed voter anger with “the system”.

In other races, Nevada’s Republican governor Jim Gibbons was defeated by former federal judge Brian Sandoval and Gibbons will face Democrat Rory Reid, while the son of the Senate’s majority leader and sitting Republican congressman, Bob Inglis, in South Carolina came in behind Trey Gowdy, although he also qualified for a further runoff on 22 June. Gowdy ran as a fierce opponent of the 2008 financial bailout legislation that Inglis had supported.

And back in South Carolina, Tim Scott led a crowded field seeking the Republican nomination for a congressional seat. If he wins in November, he would be the Republicans’ only black member in the House. And his rival in a 22 June runoff? None other than Paul Thurmond, son of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, the southern Democrat who ran for president in 1948 as an arch racial segregationist.

Both parties have already started their campaigns against some of these front-runners. Democratic New Jersey senator Bob Menendez charged that Carly Fiorina is “against a woman’s right to choose, supports the Arizona immigration law, wants to repeal healthcare and supports allowing people on the ‘no-fly’ list to buy guns”. Meanwhile, Michael Steele the Republican national chairman, tried to poison Blanche Lincoln’s win by claiming that “she will simply fall in line with President Obama’s big-spending, big-government agenda, putting her vastly out of touch with the majority of Arkansans”.

Politics, you gotta love it.

By J Brooks Spector

For more, read AP, The New York Times here, here and here, and the Washington Post here and here.

Main photo: Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, gives her acceptance speech during her election night party at a hotel in Anaheim, California June 8, 2010. REUTERS/Alex Gallardo


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