Election 2016: It isn’t just about the presidential race


The 2015 elections are in the books (mostly, with one state legislative race pending), and it’s hard to ignore stories about the 2016 presidential race crowding the airwaves. But what will CAWP’s Election Watch be tracking at the congressional and statewide levels? With two 2016 filing deadlines already past (in Alabama and Arkansas) it’s not too soon to consider what’s at stake – although it’s far too early to judge how close we may come to matching or beating past records.

US Senate
In 34 states, U.S. Senate seats will be on the ballot. To date, there are open seats in six states (CA, FL, IN, LA, MD and NV) but it’s possible that more will be created as incumbents contemplate the relative merits of an arduous contest versus a quiet retirement. Two incumbent women have already announced that they will step down: Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). That leaves three incumbent women who plan to seek re-election: Lisa Murkowski (R-AK);  Kelly Ayotte (R-NH); and Patty Murray (D-WA). Ayotte’s race is already shaping up as a marquee woman-versus-woman contest, with Governor Maggie Hassan challenging her. Fifteen women in the Senate are holdovers whose seats are not up in 2016.

It could be a big year for women of color, with Democratic Senate candidates so far in six states (Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez in CA,  Pam Keith in FL, Tammy Duckworth and Andrea Zopp in IL, Donna Edwards in MD, Catherine Cortez Masto in NV, and Joyce Dickerson in SC). Only one woman of color, Mazie Hirono, serves in the Senate now, and she is only the second woman of color there, following in the footsteps of Carol Moseley Braun.

On two occasions, a record 36 women have filed for Senate seats; in 2012, 20 Democrats and 16 Republicans ran, and in 2010, 19 Democrats and 17 Republicans did so.  The largest number of women to win primaries was 18 (12D, 6R) in 2012. And the maximum number of women serving in the Senate concurrently is 20, a figure first achieved in 2013. The current number remains 20, although the party balance has changed (16D, 4R in 2013, 14D, 6R now).

US House of Representatives
Of course, all 435 House seats are up . So far, we know of 24 open seats, and we anticipate that 78 incumbent women (56D, 22R) will seek re-election, although that number will likely drop at least a bit. We know of seven incumbents (6D, 1R) not returning, including four running for the Senate, one running for county office, and two retiring.

The records to beat for the House? The maximum number to file was 298 (190D, 108R) in 2012. In that same year, 166 women (118D, 48R) won primaries. We reached the peak number of women in the House in 2013 (104) and that’s the number still serving (62D, 22R).  

Only 11 states have gubernatorial elections in 2016. Six states (DE, MO, NH, ND, VT, WV) will have open-seat races, including one (NH) where the current woman governor, Maggie Hassan, is running for the U.S. Senate instead, as mentioned above. Women are currently candidates in four of the six open-seat races: Lacey Lafferty (R-DE); Catherine Hanaway  (R-MO),  Stefany Shaheen (D-NH), and Sue Minter (D-VT). One incumbent, Kate Brown (D-OR) is running; since she took office via constitutional succession, this will be her first gubernatorial race.  The other four incumbent women  (in NM, OK, RI and SC) are not up for election this year.

For chief executives in the states, the record number of candidates filing was 34 (18D, 15R, 1ACP) in 1994. That year, 10 women  (6D, 3R, 1IND) won nominations, a figure matched in 2002 (9D, 1R), 2006 (5D, 5R) and 2010 (5D, 5R) – all non-presidential years. The maximum number of women serving as governors was 9, which occurred in 2004 and 2007. Right now, we have six women governors (3D, 3R).

While specifics are still falling into place for the full range of statewide elected executive offices, two states offer interesting possibilities. In Missouri, five women (3D, 2R) are candidates for open seats, including two Black women who – if successful – would be the first Black statewide executives in the Show-Me State. And in New Hampshire, Portsmouth Councilwoman Stefany Shaheen is contemplating a race that could make her the first daughter to follow her mother as a state’s chief executive, since Jeanne Shaheen served three terms as New Hampshire’s governor before winning a U.S. Senate seat. Moreover, if Shaheen won the Democratic primary, she could find herself facing Chris Sununu, son of former Governor  and Senator John Sununu, in a new-generation rematch; the senior Sununu defeated the senior Shaheen in her first Senate bid in 2002, but she bested him in a repeat match-up in 2008. 

Primaries for statewide and congressional offices begin in March and continue well into September of 2016, so it will be a long time before we know how the races are shaping up – how many women are running, where women are strong contenders for open seats, where we might see woman-versus-woman races or other contests of particular interest. If you want to track the prospects for women candidates, you can visit CAWP’s Election Watch page for updates after each filing date and primary – and of course, on Election Night, November 8, 2016.

Kathy Kleeman has been at the Center since 1980. She writes or edits many of the Center's proposals and publications and has led CAWP’s work with Girl Scouts. Kleeman earned her A.B. from Harvard/Radcliffe and her Ed.M. from Harvard's Graduate School of Education.