Women House members from both parties have stuck together like glue for the past few years, uniting to form the bipartisan Conference of Women Legislators (COWL).

The group has become a powerful force at the Statehouse, successfully pushing several woman-friendly bills and budget items.

COWL members have also generally tried to support each other at election time. Several House Democratic women, for instance, were furious this fall when their party launched an all-out assault on Glenview Republican state Rep. Beth Coulson’s seat.

Coulson’s district leans heavily Democratic, so she can’t win without Democratic votes. Democrats attacked Coulson for her past support of conservative Republican candidates and did their very best to inform voters that Coulson was definitely no Democrat. Coulson and the Republicans claimed that the Democrats were being mean and unfair.

The Chicago media was all over the story, quickly labeling Coulson’s race as the "ugliest," or the "meanest," or even the "dirtiest" legislative race in the state. Tell that to Rep. Careen Gordon (D-Coal City), who was falsely and outrageously slimed by her opponent, Doug Hayse, who accused her of bumbling a prosecution to the point that an accused sex offender out of jail. The charge was completely untrue, but that didn’t stop Hayse.

The Republican claims of an unfair campaign against Coulson were reinforced when female Democratic House members refused to publicly endorse the attacks. That lack of a credible push-back helped the Republicans stir up a huge amount of favorable publicity for Coulson.

Republican women didn’t return the favor when it came to a downstate race, however.

Several pro-choice Republican women openly supported the devoutly pro-life Republican Aaron Schock’s race against pro-choice state Rep. Ricca Slone (D-Peoria Heights).

Schock started the campaign saying he opposed all abortion, even in the case of rape and incest. Later, he backed off and claimed he would allow for those two exceptions.

Since the House Republicans were in great danger of losing some seats they had counted on, like Coulson’s the Schock campaign took on an added importance. They needed to win, and they had a very good shot. So, they "asked" women members to help. Most did.

Ten female House Republicans, many of them solidly pro-choice, allowed their photos to be used last week in an advertisement for Schock. The tagline below their photos was: "We need Aaron Schock on our side in Springfield."

Schock has amazed and astounded lots of political observers this year. No matter what, he just wouldn’t go down. The Democrats tossed every bomb in their arsenal at the guy, but their candidate was so unpopular and Schock was so personally likable that nothing seemed to work.

A week or so ago, the Dems thought they had finally put him away, but then Schock somehow managed to use his flip-flop on abortion to bounce back. "He’s like that monster in the movies who keeps coming back to life," cracked one Democrat last week.

While more than pleased with Schock’s performance, the House Republicans were a bit ticked last week when they discovered that the pro-choice Personal PAC had decided to make a big final push for Ricca Slone. The House Republicans were hugely worried about Rep. Coulson’s prospects in the face of a massive precinct effort by the Democrats.

The Republicans figured that since Coulson is such an important pro-choice leader, Personal PAC would focus its late efforts on her campaign. Instead, the group organized a caravan to Peoria for the campaign’s final weekend to walk precincts for Slone.

That seemed logical to me. If Coulson lost, she would be replaced by a pro-choice Democrat. If Slone lost, however, her replacement would give the pro-life forces a new poster boy. Schock has impressed the heck out of the Right as a conservative with the fire to win. A Schock victory almost certainly sets him up for a future statewide bid.

Schock’s potentially bright future is at the very core of why so many Democrats and others are not happy with those pro-choice Republican women for helping the "anti-choice" Schock. They see Schock as a future leader of the state’s conservative movement, and they think the liberal Republican women caved to pressure too easily and sold out their supposedly all-important progressive ideals for the potential of a relatively small partisan gain.

The next COWL meeting ought to be interesting.


Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at www.capitolfax.com.