The midterm elections are a week away, and this year an overwhelming number of female candidates, commentators and influencers are commanding the headlines, brashly driving the conversation and laboring to deliver who will control the Senate, the House and the future direction of the country.
The forces that put us in this position come in the form of various political baronesses and upstarts that make up this Top 25 Power Women of Elections 2010. A great many of these mighty women appear on Forbes' list of The World's 100 Most Powerful Women, including Tea Party queenmaker Sarah Palin, First Lady Michelle Obama and Rachel Maddow, a cable news anchor with a beef against "extremists" in politics.
Yet the polarizing are, in some ways, those who matter most. Or at least provoke chatter most. Consider Mama Grizzly Sharron Angle, clawing at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's seat from Nevada and whose challenge to the incumbent is to "man up." Or contender for the U.S. Senate from Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, whose open ignorance or misreading of the First Amendment's guarantee of separation of church and state--"You're telling me that's in the First Amendment?"--caused a 10-alarm fire on the airwaves and Internet.
Or Maureen Dowd, who coined the phrase "Mean Girls" of the midterms (talking about the Tea Party sorority), saying that they have replaced "Hope with Spite and Cool with Cold." Or the California governor's race, where Republican Meg Whitman was labeled a "w----" by her Democratic challenger's aide.
To rank this list of powerful women, we looked at both their reach--in terms of constituency and audience size--and buzz--Google searches and Factiva hits. This is not a registry of the establishment in heels (or sneakers, if you're Maddow). It is a snapshot of today with a lingering shadow: What will this list look like in a week? A year? Where will this take us in the future?
The Top Five Power Women of the 2010 Midterm Elections
1. Sarah Palin, Political Maverick
Palin has leveraged her national notoriety and massive audience draw to support more than 25 female candidates this election cycle, including six up for election in November. Most have ties to her beloved Tea Party. Palin recently kicked off the final midterm tour of the Tea Party Express in Reno, Nev., to support Sharron Angle (No. 13), majority leader Harry Reid's fierce opponent, and will wrap up on Halloween for a pep rally to honor controversial Republican Delaware senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell (No. 17).
2. Michelle Obama, First Lady
Obama threw her considerable political weight behind many Democratic candidates this season, with a series of trips in October to battleground states, culminating in a recent trip to the Golden State for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (No. 3), Sen. Barbara Boxer (No. 6) and the Democratic National Committee. Fundraising events hosted by the first lady have been outselling tickets to events headlined by President Obama--and for much higher prices. Tickets to two recent events in Chicago were sold at $750 (Michelle) and $500 (Barack).
3. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of The House
Rep. Pelosi is an influencer with a lot at stake: Not only is she fighting for her seat in California's 8th district, but her position as speaker will be threatened if the GOP gains control of Congress. She has been working overtime both for herself and for other Democratic candidates in hopes keeping the reins of power. But Pelosi's championing of fellow Dems might not be enough: The Washington Post reports that at least five of Pelosi's colleagues have said in the past two weeks they would not support her keeping the speaker's post, even if Democrats retain the majority.
4. Meg Whitman, Gubernatorial Candidate, California
Billionaire and former eBay chief Meg Whitman is said to be the biggest campaign contributor of the midterm elections, donating $140 million to her own campaign fund. Her race against Democratic opponent Jerry Brown has been highly publicized, most sensationally when a member of his campaign referred to Whitman as a "w----," and her nanny scandal over firing her illegal immigrant housekeeper. Most recent polls show Brown ahead by a margin of a few points, but Whitman has been endorsed by GOP queens Nancy Reagan and Condoleezza Rice.
5. Carly Fiorina, Senatorial Candidate, California
Like Whitman, Carly Fiorina is an ex-tech exec turned politico. Her campaign against incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer has been helped by key endorsements from Sarah Palin and Condoleezza Rice. Fiorina is a conservative Republican, ardently pro-life and is vocal about her stances--including supporting California's Proposition 8 against gay marriage--to her 308,000 Twitter followers. Fiorina's campaign has largely been built on her support for small businesses and saving domestic jobs.