Mary Fallin and Jari AskinsOklahoma governor candidates Mary Fallin (left) and Jari AskinsThe Oklahoma governor’s race has two highly experienced female politicians squaring off against each other — Republican Mary Fallin and Democrat Jari Askins.

But at a recent debate, when asked what set her apart as a candidate, Fallin didn’t start off by talking about her experience in Congress or as lieutenant governor. Instead, she said, “First of all, being a mother, having children, raising a family” — an apparent dig at Askins, who doesn’t have kids. That cheap shot drew groans from some in the audience.

Asked about her opponent’s comment after the debate, Askins had a great response:

I always expected to be married and have a passel full of kids. But none of that ever happened. Rather than sit back and worry about it, I devoted my life to trying to serve all the children of Oklahoma.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Askins also told MSNBC’s Chris Jansing:

[T]here have been wonderful leaders in both Oklahoma and certainly around the country that have not chosen to have children. And my experience as a judge for eight years, 12 years in the legislature, and as lieutenant governor I think really equips me for the governing side of the position of governor.

Jansing asked Askins whether she was surprised that Fallin “played the motherhood card.” Askins replied:

I have had that experience before when I’ve run for office. … It’s usually been quieter when it’s been brought up. It’s the first time it’s been brought up in a debate.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

It’s the same sort of suspicion that was thrown at Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her confirmation process.

While the Mama Grizzly theme has been rampant among Republicans this election season, not all GOP women are buying it. Said Brenda Reneau, Oklahoma’s former labor commissioner, “I don’t understand why that’s important. Is she going to bring them to work? I’ve never found one thing while I was in office that I needed experience in being married and having children.”

In the end, the governor’s mansion will likely be home to Fallin and her blended family of six kids; Fallin is up 20 points in the polls.

Watch the MSNBC segment on the whole kerfuffle, via Mediaite.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.