Andrea Mitchell: Why Paying Attention to Politics Matters to Women

Whether you're a Mama Grizzly or on Emily's List, it's an exciting time to tune in

Andrea Mitchell is NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent and the host of MSNBC'S Andrea Mitchell Reports, an hour of political news and interviews with top newsmakers that airs each day at 1 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

Women -- who have outvoted men since 1980 -- are good at showing up and paying attention. I was still in a stroller when my mother took my older sister and me to watch the first televised inaugural -- Harry Truman's swearing-in -- on a black and white television in a store window near our apartment in the Bronx. Six weeks ago, we celebrated the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. With issues from the economy to education and healthcare at stake, showing up and paying attention in 2010 matters more than ever.

It's a year of political energy and electoral surprises, and the third midterm cycle in a row, which is likely to see a host of newcomers in political office. The Tea Party, which less than two years ago was one rowdy broadcaster on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, may now produce several new Republican senators far more conservative than those they're replacing. Normally, there is a big drop-off of voters in midterm elections. The president, vice president and their surrogates are trying desperately to limit the damage and generate enthusiasm, despite the weak economy.

Policies on job creation, taxes, spending and financial regulation are at stake this year. Women are figuring out how to stretch the grocery budget and make it to the corner office, how to fit in quarterly conferences and parent-teacher conferences. After a two-year recession, polls show women are worn thin, and like most Americans, have little hope the economy will improve.

With many states in fiscal crisis, the 37 governor's races this year have real consequences for the future of our schools. Forty-six out of 50 states had less revenue last year than projected; 40 were forced to make mid-year budget cuts. At NBC, we just wrapped up Education Nation, a summit to focus attention on the daunting task of reshaping public education at a time when many districts have fewer resources. The 6,000 teachers who participated were clear: Our kids are being short-changed, but without significant structural changes an army of teachers may not be enough to reverse the decline in basic skills and graduation rates. We have fallen behind, dropping to 20th in math and 21st in science behind the leading industrial nations -- Finland, South Korea and Singapore. For our kids to again compete in science and math, teachers need more training and kids need better teaching and social support. As we've seen recently, the battle lines over education cross partisan lines. More and more parents know that from local to national races, we have a responsibility to elect leaders from both parties who will find solutions.

Women are informed consumers of healthcare. We take care of our sick children and our elderly parents at a higher rate. Many of us need better prenatal care. We live longer than men. We have a stake in healthcare reform, if and how it's enacted.

From a woman's perspective, the 112th Congress is likely to look very different than the 111th -- and with term limits leaving 17 statehouses with open seats, it won't only be Washington seeing a host of new faces. As a percentage, fewer women now serve in Congress than compete in the Olympics or travel to space. 1992 was dubbed the "Year of the Woman." That year, women made up only 5 percent of senators. And it took another year to even install a woman's bathroom near the Senate floor. Though as a country we are inspired and fascinated by women like Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, more than 15 years after the '92 campaign, there are still only 17 women in the Senate and 73 in the House. And in a Forbes survey, Lady Gaga was judged more powerful than Nancy Pelosi! This year was again dubbed "The Year of the Woman." That is clearly another example of wishful thinking. With at least four women senators and a dozen House members at risk, there will likely be fewer women in the next Congress than in this one -- the first time that's happened since 1978.

There are some signs of progress: Although no woman of color has served as a U.S. governor, today, two are running and running ahead in the polls. In two states, New Mexico and Oklahoma, women are challenging each other at the top of each party's ticket for only the third and fourth time ever. For the first time, in a historic development, we have three women serving on the Supreme Court.

With less than a month to go and a dozen states already voting, 37 governor's seats, 37 Senate seats, 435 House races and countless local offices hang in the balance. Whether you're a Mama Grizzly or on Emily's List, a news junkie or just tuning in, it's an awfully exciting time to be paying attention. So listen up!

Are you voting in this November's midterm elections? Chime in below!

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