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Democratic women are kicking some serious electoral butt

There is no one factor as to why so many Democratic women are running—and winning—in races this year. David Hopkins, an associate professor of political science at Boston College, offers this assessment about the huge growth in the number of women candidates:

But it’s apparent enough by now that we are witnessing a dramatic and historic change in the gender distribution among Democratic congressional nominees, caused by a rise in the supply of, and demand for, female candidates within the party in the wake of Trump’s election (and Hillary Clinton’s defeat). It’s equally clear that this development is not occurring in parallel on the Republican side. In fact, the GOP is drifting the other way—so far, only 7 percent of the party’s House nominees this year are women (compared to 12 percent in 2016), the lowest share for the party since the election of 1988. The proportion of female Republican nominees isn’t much bigger when incumbents are excluded (9 percent).

With more women running (Emily’s List reported interest from 36,000 women this election cycle, vs. 920 in 2016), there are bound to be more victories. More than two-thirds of women won races in the May 22 primaries alone. Women make up more than 40 percent of all House nominees so far. The total number of Democratic women nominated for House seats is now up to 62, with a few more women, such as gun safety activist Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, still facing runoffs.

Chart on how many women are running for office, by party
Only the blue team shows a rising tide.

Election primary victories by Democratic women in 2018 follow the overwhelming number of seats in state legislatures across the country that flipped from red to blue over the last year—41 at last count. Many were won by women.

The media usually follow the reports of victories by Democratic women candidates with the caveat that many of these wins are in red states and red districts, and the women will face uphill battles in November. But more and more people are casting votes in Democratic primaries. Consider these primary voting numbers in Georgia:

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Looks like the odds of winning have improved considerably.

In the 2016 election, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright raised a lot of hackles when she introduced Hillary Clinton at a New Hampshire campaign event with her quote: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” It wasn’t the first time Albright used that line, but it rubbed many voters the wrong way—Clinton lost to Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary by more than 22 percentage points.

Albright had to backtrack and apologize afterward, but her point is well taken. We shouldn’t pick our candidates based on gender alone, but support for ground-breaking women candidates is crucial, just to make sure that women’s voices are heard.

The presence of so many women on the political trail also is shaping the Democratic message nationwide, both in 2018 and likely in 2020. According to a piece in Politico:

The prospect of a record number of female candidates on the November ballot — and running for president in 2020 — has Democratic leaders leaning into increasingly explicit, gender-based appeals and focusing renewed attention on education, health care, sexual harassment, and other issues perceived as critical to women.

The party itself is casting women as a focal point of the pre-presidential campaign, ahead of a presidential primary season in which women are expected to prove critical — as volunteers, donors, and, most important, as a bulk of voters.

The emphasis on supporting women is equally true inside and outside the political arena. Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens quoted a commencement speech that soccer star Abby Wambach delivered at Barnard College in New York with a message about women’s empowerment. Wambach is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a Women’s World Cup champion. She’s also a leading activist for pay equity and LGBTQ rights.

“You will not always be the goal scorer. And when you are not — you better be rushing toward her.

“Women must champion each other. This can be difficult for us. Women have been pitted against each other since the beginning of time for that one seat at the table. Scarcity has been planted inside of us and among us. This scarcity is not our fault. But it is our problem. And it is within our power to create abundance for women where scarcity used to live.

“As you go out into the world: Amplify each others’ voices. Demand seats for women, people of color, and all marginalized people at every table where decisions are made. Call out each other’s wins and just like we do on the field: claim the success of one woman, as a collective success for all women.”

Yes, 2018 is turning into the Year of the Woman. And it’s about time the media noticed.


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