Women aren’t breaking records as they run for an unprecedented number of seats. They’re shattering them. A look inside the numbers.
1992 was the original “Year of the Woman” for Congressional races, when a then-record 11 women waged major party races for the U.S. Senate, and six of them won. Another 106 women ran for House seats, and 24 won. America had never sent so many women to Congress in a single election cycle.
If data is any indication, 2018 is set to blow those records to smithereens. Whatever the day and the data you review, one thing is crystal clear: American women are running for office as never before.
As of April 6th, as reported by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, 425 women were running for or were likely to run for the House nationwide – 322 Democrats and 103 Republicans. At this point in 2016, there was half that number: 212. And, 54 women are running for or likely to run for Senate – 42 Democrats and 22 Republicans – more than double the 25 who ran in 2016.
Looking at statehouses, the report continued, 77 women — 50 Democrats and 27 Republicans – were among those running for governor or seriously considering it as their state filing deadlines approached.
What’s driving this impressive surge?
- An intense, visceral reaction to the perceived sliminess and sleaziness of Donald Trump and his self-serving presidency.
- The painful shock many American women felt at Hillary’s loss.
- The anger of millions of women who see decades of legislative progress being rolled back in Washington, D.C., and in state legislatures across the country.
All three factors, it seems, are driving women to take political matters into their own hands.
When Americans – most of them women – took to the streets on January 21, 2017, they sparked a level of grassroots political activism never before seen here. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll in early April found that one in five Americans have joined protests or rallies since Trump’s inauguration, and fully 20 percent of that group never before participated in a march or a political gathering.
First-timer Anna Bralove, 69, recalled for the Washington Post in April 2018 that “I never thought I was an activist” until she joined the Washington, D.C. Women’s March a day after the inauguration. She marched with women again in early 2018 near her home in Florida, and a third time at the D.C. March for Our Lives.
Trump drove her to all three events. “He terrifies me,” she explained. “I don’t think he has a grasp of the issues. I don’t think he cares, and I think he lies.”
It’s part of what a New York Times editorial on Feb. 26, 2018, called “a powerful upwelling of decency” – a reaction to Trumpian hate toward immigrants, minorities, women and “the other”; a demonstration of support for the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault; and a newfound determination to do something about gun violence in America, inspired by the students of Parkland, Florida, and their #NeverAgain campaign.
Of those showing up for a protest, the Post reported on April 6, “52 percent rallied solely for liberal causes such as supporting the Affordable Care Act or opposing stricter immigration policies.”
That public activism convinced many – including some who marched – that they ought to run for office themselves.
Alabamian Mallory Hagan, the 2013 Miss Universe and until recently a local TV news reporter, is one. She quit her job in February to mount a Democratic campaign against GOP House Rep. Mike D. Rogers. While the party doesn’t expect Hagan to win, they’re happy that she and others are mounting even long-shot candidacies – happy to have Democrats running everywhere and optimistic that there might be more upset wins like that of Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania.
Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss in 2016 also played a part, women candidates report, in their decision to seek public office.
As first-time candidate Chrissy Houlihan, a 50-year-old former Air Force captain, entrepreneur and chemistry teacher with Teach for America explained to The Economist in February, “I’m a very private person and have never asked for anything from anyone before. I was raised to respect democracy. But I felt on this occasion the people had got it wrong.”
With both her gay daughter and her Holocaust-survivor father fearing for their safety in Trump’s America, Democrat Houlihan is now asking for her neighbors’ votes as she runs for Pennsylvania’s sixth congressional district.
Clinton herself praised the trend in a March 29 speech at Rutgers University, while criticizing the media’s tendency to rap women for being “shrill” or “over-preparing” for a presidential debate. “The numbers of women who are running in these midterm elections and special elections…is very encouraging to me. We have to keep that pipeline full. It’s not one and out. It’s keep getting more women to run, keep convincing young women to be a part of it.”
Then there are the myriad policy changes being pushed through by Trump, a GOP-controlled Congress, and Republican-run state legislatures.
At a GOP-friendly Town Hall meeting in Virginia’s 7th District, for example, Republican Rep. David Brat wisecracked about women opposing his policies, saying, “And now, since Obamacare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill no matter where I go.” Three local women decided to get in his grill for real: they’re all running on the Democratic side to face him in the November general election.
One of them, Helen Alli, explained to NPR Politics, “It was…a funny turn of phrase that he used, but I think it is representative of the fact that there are a lot of people – many of them women – who started this past year, in 2017, really being vocal about what was important to them… when the election happened, and the Women’s March, we all by telepathy just said, ‘No we gotta fix this. We’re gonna fix this.’ And we are.”
Run? How About Manage?
Women aren’t just running for office in increasing numbers. They’re also jumping into the role of campaign manager in an unprecedented way.
On April 4, 2018, The New York Times reported that “Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss…prompted a surge of Democratic women running for office…and right behind them, a new legion of young women…managing campaigns. With a seat at the table, they will be responsible for strategy, message, staff and creating networks for future campaigns.”
According to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Times said, 40 percent of campaign managers for this year’s Democratic congressional candidates are women. That would be a massive jump from 2010, when Rutgers political scientist Kelly Dittmar told the paper she’d deleted data on female campaign consultants from a book she was writing “because the numbers were too small to be statistically reliable.”
Nicole DeMont heads one of those teams. She’s in charge of Democrat Bryan Caforio’s campaign to unseat GOP Rep. Steve Knight in California’s 25th congressional district – and the only female campaign manager in the race.
Caforio told her before hiring her that he wanted his team to reflect the district’s voters – and it does. “Two out of three of Bryan’s senior staff positions are held by women, and one is Latina. That’s extraordinarily rare on a campaign, but it’s also exactly what you would expect from Bryan. Equality isn’t a talking point or a campaign slogan for him; it’s a commitment he’s proven in his actions.”
“And,” she added, “it’s why I decided to work for him.”
It seems that a Nov. 22, 2017, Washington Post headline might be right. That headline: 2018 could be the ‘Year of the woman’ on steroids.
We’ll know for sure on November 6.