Nebraska state Sen. Deb Fischer recently shocked the political world with an upset victory in that state's U.S. Senate GOP primary. Only months before, Fischer badly trailed her two better-known male rivals — Nebraska's attorney general and state treasurer. Now she's the favorite to win the general election.
An anti-abortion tax-cutter who is also pro-gun, Fischer is just the latest woman to defy political stereotyping. For years, the public image of the female politician was a Democrat, either a limousine liberal in designer clothes or a black lawmaker. While many elected women are liberal Democrats, female officeholders' views are now just as varied as the general populace.
Fischer's rise was driven in part by an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who more than any other figure has publicly redefined the female politician with her staunch conservatism. Contrary to media disbelief, Palin is hardly an anomaly. The Susan B. Anthony List reports the number of anti-abortion women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives increased 60 percent in 2010.
In Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin broke the glass ceiling as a fiscal and social conservative, a distinction she shares with New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. In the Oklahoma Legislature, 13 of the 20 women who've served this session are conservative Republicans (including Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, who passed away midterm). Many represent rural districts, disproving old dogmas about “country” attitudes toward female candidates. Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Purcell, is Chickasaw and Choctaw, proving gender and heritage are not incompatible with conservative views, regardless of what liberal poobahs claim.
Clearly, voters are willing to elect women — if the candidate shares their values. In Oklahoma and much of the country, that translates into electoral success for conservative women.