Gender Matters

Three Wild Races for Women: Warren, Hassan Win; McMahon Takes Pricey Hit

Women clocked in with some of the most dramatic wins and fails of the year, with Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Maggie Hassan triumphing, and Republican Linda McMahon suffering a multimillion-dollar blow. Abigail Pesta reports.

11.07.12 6:10 AM ET

Three of the most rollicking races of the year drew to a dramatic close, with two women scoring victories and one suffering a crushing loss. In Massachusetts, Democrat Elizabeth Warren triumphed in her Senate bid, defying a blizzard of criticism. In New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan was crowned the only female Democratic governor in the country. In Connecticut, professional-wresting magnate Linda McMahon didn’t fare so well, losing her Republican bid for the Senate despite spending tens of millions of dollars of her own fortune.

McMahon, who also ran for the Senate in 2010, reportedly spent some $100 million, most of it her own money, in the two failed campaigns. This time, the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment targeted female voters, positioning herself as a hard-working, successful businesswoman who could relate to the middle class.

She blasted her Democratic opponent, Rep. Christopher Murphy, labeling him a typical career politician. Murphy started his career in the Connecticut state legislature, later rising to the U.S. House. McMahon said she would focus on her constituents, not special interests.

The strategy didn’t work. Some observers speculated that her pro-wrestling background worked against her, as the industry doesn’t present women in the most flattering light. Others said they found her onslaught of political ads annoying.

Murphy prevailed, and will replace retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, an Independent.

The Senate race in Massachusetts was a different story, but no less wild. There, Democrat Elizabeth Warren ousted incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown in one of the most heated and closely watched races of the year. Warren, a former Harvard law professor and supporter of Occupy Wall Street, won despite frequent heckling from Brown’s camp about her ancestry, after it was revealed that she had identified herself as a minority professor in a faculty directory, without having proof of the Native American heritage she claimed.

Republicans jumped at the chance to call her an opportunist and a fake, accusing her of using her claim to Native American ancestry to her advantage in her career. Brown supporters at one rally mocked her with tomahawk chops and war cries. Warren countered that she never received any advantages from her heritage.

The attacks from Brown’s camp may have ultimately hurt the Republican incumbent. Warren, who helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect consumers from the predatory financial industry, stuck to her message of opposing Wall Street excess. With her win, she picks up a crucial Senate seat—once held by Sen. Ted Kennedy—for the Democrats. She also becomes the first female U.S. senator from Massachusetts.

In another fascinating race, Democrat Maggie Hassan won her bid for governor in New Hampshire—and will become the only female Democratic governor in the country when she takes office. She'll also become the only female governor who supports abortion rights.

She beat out Republican Ovide Lamontagne, stressing the importance of women's reproductive rights and investing in education, while painting her opponent as too radical for New Hampshire. Lamontagne opposes abortion and gay marriage. Hassan pledged her support for women to have access to abortions and birth control, for gays to marry, and for workers to unionize.

Exit-poll interviews showed that her strategy worked. Hassan reportedly nabbed support from women, unmarried people, and people whose family incomes were less than $50,000 a year. With her win, she replaces retiring Gov. John Lynch.

A record number of women ran for Congress this year, with 18 women competing for Senate seats and 166 women vying for the House, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. The result could be a major injection of estrogen on Capitol Hill, where women held just 16.8 percent of congressional seats heading into the election.