Authors: Jeanette Torres
(WASHINGTON) -- The controversy over Ann Romney and working moms hits Democrats in their sweet spot. They have tried to criticize Republicans for supporting policies they say would hurt women. And in the race for control of the Senate, Democrats have a lot at stake because they'll have far more women on the ballot.
In fact, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has begun to tout a message that 2012 will be a historic year for women in the Senate. The committee has endorsed 11 female candidates -- five challengers in addition to six incumbents facing re-election.
Democrats have a majority of seats in the Senate, currently 53 to 47. But they also have the majority of seats up for re-election, 23 out of 33. Losing four of these seats without picking up any new ones would mean that Republicans would gain the majority.
With this in mind, the math becomes clear: The Democratic path to maintaining the majority will run through the party's female candidates.
Historically speaking, there has not been a strong correlation between female candidates and female support, i.e. women don't automatically vote for women, explains Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
"Women don't vote as a block for women candidates, they're ideologically diverse," says Walsh.
However, women are more likely to vote Democrat, adds Walsh.
"They're more likely to register as Democrats, even among the more Independent women, they're more likely to lean Democratic," she says.
With this in mind, one can see why courting that female vote is especially important to Democrats.
But it's not just Democrats who need to court women voters. Republican hopes for a majority in the Senate involve female candidates as well.
There are currently four female Republican Senate candidates running in hotly contested races where Republicans are looking to pick up seats from Democrats -- Connecticut, Hawaii, Missouri and New Mexico. In each of those states, these female candidates will face a primary battle, though in Hawaii, Connecticut and New Mexico it looks likely, based on polling, that the female candidate will emerge as the party's nominee.
If Republicans can pick up even one of these seats, they'll be in a much better position to take back the majority.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio