Women in the World

05.30.12

Michele Bachmann Becomes the First Woman Since 1964 to Win a Republican Delegate

A 48-year gap between women collecting a single delegate underscores the reasons Republicans can’t close the gender gap, writes Ben Jacobs.

Nearly five months after dropping out of the Republican primary after her last-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, Michele Bachmann made history in Texas last night, becoming only the second female candidate to win a GOP delegate, and the first in nearly a half century.

While Bachmann quit the race in early January, she had already gained ballot access in a number of states, including Texas—where the proportional delegate allocation system netted her first delegate, despite receiving less than one percent of the vote in the Lone Star State. The achievement means little in practical terms, but it serves as a sobering reminder of the problems that the GOP has had appealing to women.

National polling consistently shows a gender gap with women favoring Democrats—a party that has had Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and almost had Hillary Clinton as its nominee in 2008. In contrast, the GOP has produced relatively few national prominent female leaders, the most notable being Sarah Palin.

The only other Republican woman to receive delegates was Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith in 1964. Smith was the ideological antithesis of the ultra-conservative Bachmann, a New England liberal Republican who was the first senator to speak out against Joe McCarthy. Like Bachmann, Smith was a long shot in the confused 1964 GOP primary as the Republican establishment desperately tried to avoid handing Barry Goldwater the party’s nomination.  Smith had her name submitted to the convention on the first ballot and finished fifth. Since then, despite the candidacy of women like Elizabeth Dole and the political flirtations of Sarah Palin, every single delegate awarded in a Republican primary has been awarded to a man.

This 48-year gap, and the related gender gap in Republican support, has contributed to the party losing the popular vote in four of the past five presidential elections. Without the emergence of more nationally prominent Republican women in future years, that trend is likely to continue.