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Sex, women voters and the midterm elections
Scripps Howard News Service


October 27, 2006

Are women going forward or backward this political season? Yes.

By that I mean the '06 elections will serve as a marker for progress as well as regression for women candidates and women voters.

In one very positive respect, this year's elections are shaping up as a watershed for women candidates. Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics reports a record 2,431 women are running for state legislative seats. The former record of 2,375 was set in 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman, when women's numbers in Congress increased by historic proportions.

Large, though not record numbers of women also are running for statewide office. Ten women have secured major party nominations for governor. Ninety-three women are running as major party candidates for other statewide positions, such as lieutenant governor, secretary of state and state treasurer, according to

Now, here's what I mean by regression. First, I must commend overall the efforts of a group called "Women's Voices. Women's Vote" that has put more energy than any nonpartisan group this political observer has heard of to get single Americans (particularly single women) to vote.

According to the group's Web site, "While 27 million single women did vote in 2004, these single women are still among the least likely to register or vote on Election Day. And in midterm elections, they are much more likely than married women to 'drop-off.' In fact, 7 million women, or 24 percent of single women who voted in 2004, are expected to stay home from the polls in 2006."

We Americans are decidedly too apathetic about politics and too blase about the blood-won right to vote (yes, prior generations died for the right.) Two out of three public service announcements (or PSA's) produced by "Women's Voices. Women's Vote" do an excellent job of conveying that message to young, single Americans. My problem is with the third.

It's called, "My First Time." The PSA features a series of actresses describing their first time at something, which turns out to be voting. But it's purposely deceptive about its point, as you can readily tell when you read the group's own Web site description of the TV spot:

"Felicity Huffman likes to do it in the morning; Tyne Daly first did it in 1968 - the 'Summer of Love'; Angie Harmon researched all the possible positions, and Regina King has done it in other people's houses. Are these Hollywood actresses really dishing about their first time? You bet - their first time in the voting booth."

Do we really need sex to sell voting? My word! It's already used to sell absolutely everything else. Isn't anybody getting as bored as I am? I guess not. I showed the spot (it's on the Web) to a 20-something friend and she thought it was "cute and catchy." So much for my focus group of one.

But there's another political TV commercial that's much more troubling. Dubbed, the "Call Me" ad, it was produced by the Republican National Committee and it sets a new low (quite an accomplishment) for political ads this season. Among other things, it displays a purportedly sexy white woman dressed up as a Playboy bunny, inviting African-American Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford to "call her" while pretending to put a phone up to her ear. The ad has been widely denounced as race baiting. Even a spokesman for Bob Corker, Ford's Republican opponent, called it "tacky" and asked the national Republicans to pull the commercial.

The bunny is an apparent reference to an unattributed report in a gossip column in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call last year that Ford "was spotted" at the Playboy Super Bowl party in Jacksonville, Fla., after the 2005 Super Bowl.

Should Ford have been there? Better political judgment should have told him no. But the ad makes the woman (and by inference, women generally) look slimy. If the Republican candidate finds it offensive, at least someone at the RNC should have thought better before airing it.

So when the votes are tallied next month, let's hope this season turns out to be a winner for the women and men of America, and not a trip back to the past.


Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service.
E-mail bonnieerbe(at)
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