The 2020 presidential campaign began with six women candidates running in the Democratic primary, a record level of participation, including four U.S. Senators, a four-term U.S. Representative, and a successful entrepreneur.
Now there are none.
From the beginning, the 2016 campaign loomed over 2020 and one question was repeated continuously throughout the primary: Can a woman win? It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Women can win. Hillary Clinton showed this in 2016 when she won an overwhelming popular vote victory. Women at all levels, in all kinds of districts, showed this in 2018 when they set records for political representation in the Congress and around the country.
As we’ve discussed throughout this election cycle, women are forced to run dual campaigns: a traditional campaign to show that they are the best person for the job and an additional campaign appealing to political analysts, donors, and the media, as well as voters, to prove that they are “electable” at all.
Someday a woman will be President of the United States. But it won’t happen in an environment where women are hobbled by different, and greater, expectations than their male counterparts.
It’s time to change the way we talk about women candidates.
-Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women and Politics
Congressional primaries were held on Tuesday in Illinois. The Ohio primary was postponed due to a state of emergency. Full context about women in the 2020 elections, including candidate lists, summaries, results from previous primaries, and historical comparisons, are available via the Center for American Women and Politics’ (CAWP) Election Watch.
Among the most notable results for women:
In Illinois’ 3rd district, Marie Newman (D) defeated the incumbent of her own party, Dan Lipinski.
- This was the first defeat of an incumbent in the 2020 election cycle.
- She lost to Lipinski in the 2018 primary by 2 points.
- This seat is currently rated “Solid Democratic” by Cook Political Report, meaning this is a likely gain for Democratic women in the House.
- Mary Miller (R) won her nomination for a House seat in Illinois’ 15th district. Cook Political Report categorizes this seat as “Solid Republican,” making this a likely gain for Republican women in November.
- There are woman vs. woman races in three Illinois districts (2nd, 15th, 17th).
Betsy Dirksen Londrigan (D) won her nomination for the 13th district and will run against incumbent Rodney L. Davis (R).
- This seat is rated as “Toss Up Republican” by Cook.
- Just 1 (1R) woman – Peggy Hubbard – was on the ballot for the U.S. Senate in Illinois this year. She lost her bid to challenge Democratic incumbent Senator Dick Durbin in November.
- 2 (2D) women have served in the U.S. Senate from Illinois. Tammy Duckworth (D) is currently serving in the U.S. Senate. Carol Moseley-Braun (D), who was the first Black woman in the U.S. Senate, represented Illinois in the U.S. Senate from 1993-1998.
Women are currently 4 (4D) of 18 members of the Illinois delegation to the U.S. House.
Women are 14 of 34 (41.2%) major-party nominees for U.S. House in Illinois, including 8 of 17 (47.1%) Democrats and 6 of 17 (35.3%) Republicans. A total of 9 women (6D, 3R) women House candidates were unsuccessful in their bid for a U.S. House nomination.
- All 4 (4D) of the current incumbent women are running for re-election and each will be nominees in November. Robin Kelly (IL-02), Cheri Bustos (IL-17), and Jan Schakowsky (IL-09) are strongly favored for re-election according to the Cook Political Report. Cook categorizes Freshman Representative Lauren Underwood’s (IL-14) seat as “Toss Up Democratic,” making it the only Illinois race with an incumbent Democratic woman currently deemed competitive.
- Of the 6 (6D) women running as challengers to members of their own party in Illinois primaries, 1 (1D) – Marie Newman – was successful in Illinois’ 3rd congressional district. Newman, who previously challenged incumbent Representative Dan Lipinski (D) in 2018 and lost by just 2 points, won this year to become the first candidate to defeat an incumbent this election cycle. The general election in IL-03 is now an open seat race.
- 2 (1D, 1R) women are nominees for the other open U.S. House seat in Illinois’ 15th congressional district. In a district that strongly favors Republicans, Mary Miller (R) is favored to win against Erika Weaver (D). Miller’s nomination and strong chances to win in November position her as a likely pick-up for Republican women in the House in 2021.
- 8 (3D, 5R) women candidates were nominated to challenge U.S. House incumbents from Illinois in November. Only 2 (1D, 1R) are running in contests currently deemed competitive by Cook Political Report. Betsy Dirksen Londrigan (D), who was the Democratic nominee for the same seat in 2018, will challenge Republican incumbent Representative Rodney L. Davis (R) in Illinois’ 13th congressional district, which is currently rated as “Toss Up Republican” by Cook. Dirksen Londrigan lost to Davis in 2018 by less than one point. 2018 gubernatorial primary candidate Jeanne Ives (R) is the Republican nominee for Illinois’ 6th congressional district and will challenge incumbent Democratic Sean Casten in a seat currently rated “Lean Democratic.”
- There are three woman vs. woman races in Illinois’ 2nd, 15th, and 17th congressional districts. Republican women nominees will challenge Democratic women incumbents in Illinois’ 3rd (Democratic incumbent Robin Kelly v. Republican challenger Theresa Raborn) and 17th (Democratic incumbent Cheri Bustos v. Republican challenger Esther Joy King), with both Democratic incumbents favored to win. In Illinois’ 15th congressional district, Mary Miller (R) and Erika Weaver (D) will compete for an open seat that strongly favors Miller.
Of the 14 (8D, 6R) women who are major-party nominees for the U.S. House in Illinois, 5 (3D, 2R) are women of color. Erika Weaver (D, IL-15), Lauren Underwood (D, IL-14), Robin Kelly (D, IL-2), and Philanise White (R, IL-1) all identify as Black women. Valerie Ramirez Makherjee (R, IL-10) identifies as both Hispanic and White.
There are no statewide executive elections in Illinois this year.
The most-told story of the 2018 mid-term elections was the historic gains made by women across different levels of office and nationwide. However, these gains were not made equally across party lines. In fact, the story of 2018 for Republican women was actually quite bleak, particularly in light of the overall historic nature of the election year. As a result of the 2018 election, the number of Republican women dropped in the U.S. House, in statewide elected executive offices, and in state legislatures. The number of Republican women serving in the U.S. House today (13) is the same as it was in 1990. Party differences were evident earlier in the process, too; while the number of Democratic women running increased by 100% from 2016 to 2018, the number of Republican women only increased by just 26.3%. These facts should trouble Republican leadership and have elicited calls to action from Republican women in leadership positions. They also beg the question: will this downward trajectory for Republican women continue or not in election 2020?
With the 2020 primary season in full swing, I take inventory of trends in Republican women running for the U.S. House over the last 30 years, noting particularly how things have progressed in the last few elections and where Republican women might be headed in 2020.
What are the long-term trends?
According to CAWP’s historical data, the number of Republican women candidates has risen over the last 30 years, although not at the same rate as Democratic women. The number of Democratic women running for office has consistently been higher than that of Republican women. In fact, 2010, a particularly strong year for Republicans, was the only year in which the party gap in women candidates nearly closed. However, after 2010, Republican women candidacies once again dipped before increasingly modestly in 2018.
When we take a look at the number of women actually elected to House, we see that there is even more stagnation in actual representation by Republican women. The number of Republican women in the House is at the lowest it’s been since the early 1990s, at the same time that the number of Democratic women in the House is at an all-time high. This is consistent with a larger trend- the number of Democratic women has been climbing steadily with a few exceptions, while the number of Republican women has seen few significant gains over the past thirty years.
What happened in 2018?
A record number of women ran for and won office in 2018. However, the lion’s share of this success was enjoyed by Democratic women. The difference in the number of Republican women running in comparison to Democratic women was staggering. The number of filed Democratic candidates was nearly triple the number of Republican candidates.
Not only did more Democratic women run for the House, but they also won at higher rates than Republican women. Only a quarter of all Republican women nominees were successful in their bid for office in comparison to over half of Democratic women. Among non-incumbents only, 21.3% of Democratic women won their general election race, whereas only 2.9% of Republican women were successful in November. Even Republican women incumbents had less success maintaining their seats than incumbent men and Democrats.
What might happen in 2020?
After 2018, Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) referred to the results of the mid-term election as a “wake up call.” Motivated by the fact that the vast majority of incoming Republicans were men, Stefanik launched her political action committee, E-PAC, to recruit women and help them win. Republican women leaders like Stefanik are clearly hoping to shift the imbalance in the U.S. House. Looking at the numbers of filed and likely women candidates for the U.S. House as of March 11th, there is an increase in the number of Republican women running between 2018 and 2020; today’s number is already double the number of total Republican women candidates who filed for the U.S. House in 2016. If the likely candidates on our list end up filing, 2020 will represent the year with the highest number of Republican women running for the House in the 30 years that CAWP has been collecting this data. Based on other CAWP analyses from the start of this year’s congressional primary cycle, the partisan gap in women’s candidacies also appears likely to close slightly this year.
Can we take away any lessons from Super Tuesday?
But this progress for Republican women should be considered with some caveats. First, the non-majority party (in 2020, Republicans in the House) is likely to see more candidates run for office to oppose incumbents. We saw this contribute to Democratic women’s candidacies in 2018 and this helps to explain the high number of Republican women challengers running in 2020. Although there has been an uptick in the number of democratic primary challengers, potential candidates are generally less likely to challenge an incumbent in the primary. Second, we don’t know how these Republican women candidates will fare well in their primaries, especially in light of past evidence that Republican women have struggled at this stage.
An early test of the latter consideration came in the first congressional primaries of the 2020 election season. On Super Tuesday (March 3, 2020), congressional primaries were held in Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, and Texas. Given that many races in California are too close to call, I will restrict the present analyses to the other Super Tuesday states. Out of the 37 non-incumbent Republican women who ran for the U.S. House on Super Tuesday, 29.7% either won their race or advanced to a runoff election. In comparison, 58.5% of the 41 Democratic non-incumbents advanced to the general election or runoff. More specifically, Democratic women fared better in open seat primaries, with 50% of candidates either winning their primary or advancing to a runoff in comparison to only 19% of Republican women.
Beyond basic win rate calculations, we should consider the likelihood of gains for Republican women who have advanced as general election nominees. Out of the 5 non-incumbent Republican women who won on Super Tuesday (excluding California), 3 will be running in districts rated as “Solid Democrat” by the Cook Political Report, 1 in a “Lean Democratic” district, and 1 in a “Toss Up Republican” district. Eleven of the 16 Democratic non-incumbent nominees selected on Super Tuesday face similarly challenging conditions. running in “Solid Republican” districts, and 2 more are nominees in “Lean” or “Likely” Republican districts. However, 3 Democratic nominees are running in “Likely” or “Lean” Democratic districts, indicating they are more likely than others to win in November.
Looking beyond the states in which primaries have already taken place (Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, Texas, and Mississippi) and instead at total filed women candidates in states with upcoming primaries where the filing deadline has already passed (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia), 21 Republican women are running as potential general election challengers and 18 (86%) of them are running in districts that the Cook Political Report categorizes as either “Solid Democrat” or “Likely Democrat.” The other 3 are running in either “Lean Democrat” or “Toss Up Democrat” districts. There are also 2 non-incumbent women challenging incumbents of their own party in the primary in “Solid Republican” districts. In most cases, it is very difficult for a candidate to beat an incumbent of their own party in a primary election. Of the 7 Republican women running for 3 different open seat contests, only 1 (14%) is running in a district (IL-15) that is rated as “Solid Republican” by Cook. Looking at the Cook Ratings by district level is also illuminating. In the 20 districts in which there are challengers or open seat candidates, only 1 is rated as “Solid Republican” and 1 “Lean Republican.” This suggests that even if Republican women are extremely successful in their primary bids, gains are still likely to be small.
In terms of Democratic women candidates, 25 of the 30 (83%) women running as potential challengers are running in districts that the Cook Political Report categorizes as “Solid Republican.” Three challengers are running in “Lean Republican” districts and two in “Toss Up Republican” districts. Fifteen Democratic women are challenging incumbents of their own party in the primary. Of the 13 Democratic women running for 4 different open seat contests, 9 (69%) are running for 2 seats that are rated as “Solid Democrat.” One open seat candidate is running in a “Solid Republican” district and 3 are running in a “Lean Republican” district. It is also important to highlight the sheer number of filed Democratic women incumbents (11) verses Republican women incumbents (2). In sum, Republican and Democratic challengers face similarly difficult electoral contexts, although Democratic women seem better poised for general election success if they advance as nominees in open seat contests.
So yes, the most current 2020 data reveals a notable increase in Republican women candidates for the U.S. House. As far as the motivation for these candidates or the impetus for the increase, that is difficult to discern. Potential explanations are that this could be a response to the success of Democratic women in 2018, a product of the organizing efforts of organizers like incumbent Republican Elise Stefanik, or recruitment efforts by the party. An initial peek at the results from Super Tuesday reveals that Republican women were not particularly successful in their primary bids, at least compared to Democratic women. Furthermore, a deep dive into the political landscape where Republican women are running reveals the additional hurdle of generally unfavorable electoral context in the general election. As far as 2020 being “the year of the Republican women,” the early data casts doubt on that.
Joe Biden made news in last night’s Democratic debate for stating definitively that he would choose a woman as his running mate if he wins his party’s presidential nomination. While leaving himself an out, Bernie Sanders said he would “in all likelihood” choose a woman as well. The prospect of a mixed-gender ticket is more notable than it should be in 2020. Four years ago and again in recent months, there was talk of the possibility of an all-woman presidential ticket. But with no viable woman candidates remaining in contention for the presidential nomination, the number two slot is now the only chance for a woman to be on a major-party ticket.
And while it seems to many that gender balance on a presidential ticket should not be exceptional, it is. All-male tickets have been the norm in presidential politics for over 200 years. Only three women have ever appeared on major-party presidential tickets, with two as vice presidential running mates to male nominees. In the past 100 years, just 3 of 100 names on major-party presidential tickets have been women.
The first woman on a major-party presidential ballot was Geraldine Ferraro, who Democratic nominee Walter Mondale selected as his running mate in 1984. Ferraro’s selection was the result of feminist activism and lobbying, in which organizations like the National Organization for Woman (NOW) sought to leverage the power of women’s votes – especially the gender gap that had first emerged in the 1980 election – to pressure the Democratic Party to address women’s demands. Those demands were not limited to a woman on the ticket. As Susan Carroll details in a chapter about this period, “Over the course of discussions among feminist activists and organizational leaders, the idea emerged to push for the selection of a woman as a vice-presidential candidate in 1984 as ‘an attention-getting device’ to build on the momentum generated by the gender gap and ‘keep women’s issues on the front burner of American politics and that meant the front pages of the newspapers and on the evening TV news shows.’“
In recent weeks, a coalition of 11 women’s organizations made a similar case to 2020 presidential candidates. In their petition, they called upon all presidential candidates to not only select a woman for vice president, but to commit to gender parity, as well as racial and religious representation, in presidential appointments. But again, their case does not solely rest on women’s descriptive presence; they argue that women’s descriptive representation will yield substantively positive results for women. The organizations write, “We know that the only way to guarantee that women’s issues stay on the agenda is if women are the ones setting it.”
Decades of research on the impact of women officeholders backs the claim that women’s inclusion alters agendas and priorities in ways that benefit women in the electorate. Still, today’s presidential candidates should not put the onus on a woman running mate to carry the water in outreach to women and/or in applying gender and intersectional lenses to policy and politics. The white men who will top presidential tickets in 2020 need to do more than tapping women to make clear that they not only understand the distinct experiences, needs, and demands of women, but will value and integrate them into their policy plans and priorities. They will also need to demonstrate their capacity to recognize and address the full diversity among women, and thus the diversity of women’s needs and demands.
It is hard to know what the effects of a woman vice presidential nominee on the Democratic presidential ticket in 2020 will be. What we do know is that it is unlikely to influence many votes on Election Day. Both men and women voters are guided much more by party affiliation than any other factor in casting their ballots. A CNN/ORC poll in 2016 revealed, for example, that vice presidential picks were especially unimportant to voters’ decision-making; 86% of registered voters said it would make no difference to their vote if Hillary Clinton chose a female running mate and 89% of registered voters said Trump’s selection of a woman running mate would make no difference in their decision to back him or not. Similarly, historical precedent proves prescient here; neither the Democratic selection of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 nor the addition of Sarah Palin to the 2008 GOP ticket brought a discernable influx of unexpected or unlikely voters to their camps. Beyond gender, these findings reflect the reality that voters are most concerned about the top of the ticket and less concerned about who is VP - woman or man.
This does not mean that putting a woman on the ticket will not matter at all, particularly in a political environment where issues of gender equality are especially salient and in a year when either Democratic candidate would become the oldest president elected if successful in November. The presence of a woman on a presidential ticket could mobilize some voters, or at least be among a set of factors that influence their behavior. While the Mondale-Ferraro ticket was defeated at the ballot box in 1984, feminist leaders and activists claimed Ferraro’s selection was a success. For example, as Carroll details, Gloria Steinem claimed that Ferraro’s candidacy was “a substantial net plus in activism,” with Ferraro raising $4 million for the ticket and attracting 10,000 volunteers. Other leaders pointed to the registration of 1.8 million new women voters in advance of the 1984 election as evidence that having a woman on the presidential ticket mattered. Scholars David Campbell and Christina Wolbrecht suggest that the positive impact of Ferraro’s candidacy may have extended to young women, finding that adolescent girls became significantly more likely to express an interest in political activities (e.g. writing to public officials, giving money to a political campaign, or working in a political campaign) in the year after Ferraro was on the ticket.
The last time Democrats nominated a woman for vice president, adolescent girls became significantly more likely to express an interest in political activities, such as working on a campaigns. cc: @CAWP_RU https://t.co/0sxlPeK5jW pic.twitter.com/Yp2ckvl9nm— Christina Wolbrecht (@C_Wolbrecht) March 16, 2020
However, Sarah Palin’s addition to the 2008 Republican presidential ticket did not seem to have a similarly positive effect on young women’s political engagement, consistent with research showing that the mobilizing effect of women candidates is conditional on political context and partisan cues. Moreover, there is reason to believe that the positive effects of adding a woman vice presidential nominee in 2020 – when many feel that the time for a woman president is overdue – might vary from nearly four decades ago. Concerns that this year’s addition of a woman is simply a consolation prize for not winning the ticket’s top spot, beliefs that a gender-balanced ticket is overdue, and demands that the candidates do more than select a woman to demonstrate competency on gender equity are likely to depress the enthusiasm that emerges as a direct result of the selection of a woman VP.
Finally, which woman is selected as a vice presidential nominee in 2020 will likely matter more than the fact that a woman is on the ticket. Voters – women and men alike – will be concerned about the experience, perspective, and priorities of potential woman running mates, in addition to their ability (if any) to mobilize and attract particular groups of voters in a general election contest against Donald Trump. Candidates should be careful not to assume uniformity in women’s appeal as candidates or in women’s perspectives and priorities as voters. Even in 1984, a poll commissioned by the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) found that a woman’s positions on issues and her experience were more important to voters than the fact that she was a woman. Carroll cites Florence R. Skelly, president of the firm that conducted the poll, who concluded, “This study shows they can’t just name to that ticket and have it work... Even with sisterhood and the gender gap, you can’t automatically attract women’s votes with a woman candidate.” Biden and Sanders would be smart to heed the same caution in 2020. Selecting a woman vice presidential nominee is a minimum, not solitary, step toward making good on a commitment to gender equity in the next presidential administration.
Just over a week ago, Elizabeth Warren, the last viable woman candidate for president, suspended her campaign. The collective gut punch to women was palpable. Few were naïve enough to think that a woman president, or even a woman presidential nominee, was inevitable in 2020. But more than a decade after Hillary Clinton suspended her 2008 campaign for president by stating that there were 18 million new cracks in the presidential glass ceiling “and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time,” women in 2020 are left wondering if the path has really been any easier for women in presidential politics.
In 2016, President Barack Obama noted, "There has never been a man or a woman, not me, not Bill, nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America.” But qualifications are not always enough for presidential candidates. For Clinton, her qualifications were the very thing that often yielded criticisms that she was too “establishment,” not “authentic” enough, and – as is the dilemma often facing high-achieving women – unlikeable. In 2020, few could question Elizabeth Warren’s intellect and resume as preparing her well for the presidency. Like Clinton, Warren is an exceptionally smart woman. But there was more – she came closest to meeting the many demands of many Clinton skeptics; Warren was more progressive, more engaging and charismatic, less “establishment,” and arguably more “authentic” – in the sense that few could challenge the consistency of her beliefs and priorities – than Clinton.
That makes Warren’s loss to two white men – neither of whom check all of these boxes – all the more frustrating for two reasons. First, it raises doubts that there is any woman candidate that will be able to clear the higher bar that women face en route to winning the presidency. And second, it reinforces the experiences that many women have had themselves; they often work twice as hard to reach the same results as white men. Sometimes they work harder but still fall short due to gender biases long baked into the system. By illuminating the stubbornness of American political institutions, Warren's loss is a reminder that the burden on women to do more to achieve the same is persistent and resistant to change. That feels exhausting.
This frustration and exhaustion is not new. Women have navigated through it time and again in American politics to push for and achieve progress. They have never thrown in the towel before, and, as Warren urged in her interview last week, they will persist. What's important in this moment is that women don't feel the weight is only on their shoulders. Men need to play a more vocal and active role in both calling out bias and pushing for a politics – especially a presidential politics – where men and women are held to the same standards and where women's leadership is as equally valued as men's.
Here’s another way to think of it: women should not have to persist within institutions built for, by, and to the advantage of men. Disrupting the balance of gender power within these institutions is necessary, and that work cannot only fall to women. In the aftermath of Warren’s departure, MSNBC commentator Zerlina Maxwell stated this especially plainly. She said, “I would like more men to be vocal about the fact that they want to see women in positions of leadership.” That’s a start. But voters – men and women alike – also play an enormously important role in both what we demand of candidates and what we accept as qualifications and credentials for the job. Rejecting masculinity as the standard by which fitness for presidential office is measured would help to create an environment in which traits, expertise, and experiences more often associated with women are equally valued as merits of presidential contenders.
Voters can also perpetuate or confront biases in ourselves and in others. In 2020, the perpetuation of the electability myth for women in presidential politics reinforced an advantage for men. Despite efforts by candidates and experts to debunk it, this bias placed an additional burden on the women running for president. But they should not be alone in addressing the burden of gender bias. In fact, those most effective in confronting gender bias in others are what social psychologists call non-targets – those who aren’t hurt by this bias and thus cannot be disregarded as complaining or self-interested. That means we’re looking especially at white men to intervene and admonish gender bias in how people evaluate and assess candidates.
Male candidates also play an important role in creating new conditions for candidate success. For white men especially, this means recognizing the ways in which their gender and race have constrained their experiences and understanding of what’s at stake in politics and policy instead of assuming that these identities make them most fit to lead. We saw some examples of this in the 2020 Democratic primary race. When Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA) told CNN that he approached his presidential candidacy “with humility” because he had “never been a woman talked over in a meeting,” he at least recognized the danger of women’s exclusion from powerful positions. Likewise, after Beto O’Rourke was admonished for joking that his wife Amy was raising his three children “sometimes with [his] help,” his response evidenced the value of men’s reflection on gender-biased institutions. He apologized by noting, “[it] should have also been a moment for me to acknowledge that [women’s bearing the caregiving burden] is far too often the case, not just in politics, but just in life in general,” adding, “I hope as I have been in some instances part of the problem, I can also be part of the solution.”
These examples of gender disruption are not alone going to lead to the types of big structural changes that we need in American political institutions in order to upend the gender norms and expectations that have put hurdles in women's path to success at and below the presidential level. But they are a place to start, particularly for men and at a moment when women are especially fatigued by persisting. They should also serve as an important reminder that the gender story of the 2020 presidential election is not over because the race is down to three men (Biden, Sanders, and Trump). These men will play a key role in either reinforcing or rejecting the dominance of masculinity in presidential politics in the rhetoric and imagery they use, the tactics they adopt, the traits they tout, and the prioritization and perspective they bring to policy debates. Rejecting masculine dominance and rethinking the credentials, experiences, and perspectives we value in presidential politics are not only important for creating institutional change. They are also important steps to creating the conditions where more women can run and win…perhaps with a bit more ease the next time around.
Congressional primaries were held on Tuesday in Mississippi. Full context about women in the 2020 elections, including candidate lists, summaries, results from previous primaries, and historical comparisons, are available via the Center for American Women and Politics’ (CAWP) Election Watch.
Among the most notable results for women:
- Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R), the first woman elected to Congress from Mississippi, is likely to win re-election to a full term in the U.S. Senate this year.
- While 2 (2D) women won major-party nominations in U.S. House contests, they are running as challengers in districts where their incumbent opponents are strongly favored to win. If that happens, Mississippi will remain a state that has never sent a woman to the U.S. House.
Just one woman has served in the Senate from Mississippi: current Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R). She was appointed to fill a vacancy caused by a resignation and was subsequently elected in a special election on 11/27/18. Hyde-Smith is also the only woman ever elected to Congress from the state of Mississippi.
- Just 1 (1R) woman – Cindy Hyde-Smith – was on the ballot for the U.S. Senate in Mississippi this year. She is the incumbent senator and ran in an uncontested primary.
- Hyde-Smith will face Democratic nominee Mike Espy in the general election. This will be a rematch of the special election contest she won in to become the first woman elected to Congress from Mississippi. The race is currently rated as “likely Republican” by Cook Political Report.
No woman has ever been elected to the U.S. House from Mississippi and that is unlikely to change in 2020.
Women candidates have secured 2 out of 7 (28.6%) major-party nominations for U.S. House seats decided in Mississippi on March 10th. Women are 2 of 3 (66.7%) Democratic nominees for the U.S. House and 0 of 4 (0%) Republican nominees for the U.S. House in Mississippi. Of the 2 (2R) candidates advancing to the runoff elections, 0 are women. 2 (2D) women House candidates were unsuccessful in their bid for the nomination.
- Antonia Eliason (D) was unopposed in her bid for the Democratic nomination in Mississippi’s 1st congressional district. She will run as a challenger against incumbent Republican Trent Kelly in the general election in which Kelly is strongly favored to win, according to Cook Political Report.
- Dorothy “Dot” Benford won the Democratic nomination in a woman v. woman primary in Mississippi’s 3rd district. She will run as a challenger against incumbent Republican Michael Guest in the general election in which Guest is strongly favored to win, according to Cook Political Report.
There are no statewide executive elections in Mississippi this year.
Congressional and statewide primaries were held on Tuesday in five states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, and Texas. Many races in California remain too close to call, so this post will be updated as results are determined. Full context about women in the 2020 elections, including candidate lists, summaries, and historical comparisons, is available via the Center for American Women and Politics’ (CAWP) Election Watch.
Among the most notable results for women:
- North Carolina has the potential to increase the representation of women in its congressional delegation. 2 (2D) women are nominees in districts currently represented by men that are favored to flip from Republican to Democratic control, and 1 (1R) woman advanced to a runoff in the solidly Republican district currently represented by Mark Meadows.
- Though a large number of races remain too close to call in Texas, the state also has the potential to increase the number of women it sends to Congress. In the 24th congressional district, the race to replace retiring Kenny Marchant will be decided between two women, and 1 (1D) woman is running in an open seat race to replace a retiring congressman in a district that is rated as leaning Democrat.
- Arkansas currently has zero women in its congressional delegation. While two Democratic women advanced in uncontested primaries, those districts are rated solidly Republican, meaning Arkansas will almost assuredly continue to have no women in Congress in 2021.
- The lone Republican woman in the Alabama congressional delegation, Martha Roby, is retiring this year and the women running for the Republican nomination were defeated in the primary. As a result, Alabama will send no GOP women to Congress in 2021. (Current Democratic congresswoman from Alabama Terri Sewell ran unopposed in the primary and has no Republican opponent in the fall.)
- Many races in California remain too close to call, but women are currently 34 of 98 (34.7%) nominees for U.S. House that have already been determined as of March 24th.
- Just 1 (1R) woman – Ruth Page Nelson – was on the ballot for the U.S. Senate in Alabama this year. She lost her bid to challenge Democratic incumbent Senator Doug Jones in November.
- 2 (2D) women have served in the U.S. Senate from Alabama, though both were appointed to fill a vacancy caused by resignation or death, and neither served more than one year: Maryon Pittman Allen (D) served from June to November 1978 and Dixie Bibb Graves (D) served from August 1937 to January 1938. No woman has been elected to the Senate from Alabama.
Women are currently 2 (1D, 1R) of 7 members of the Alabama delegation to the U.S. House.
Women candidates secured 3 of 8 (37.5%) major-party nominations for U.S. House seats decided in Alabama on March 3rd. Women are 3 of 4 (75%) Democratic nominees for U.S. House and 0 of 4 (0%) Republican nominees for the U.S. House in Alabama. Of the 6 (2D, 4R) candidates advancing to runoff elections on March 31, 2020, 1 (1D) – Kiani Gardner (D, AL-01) – is a woman.
- Incumbent Representative Martha Roby (R), one of just 13 Republican women in the U.S. House, did not run for re-election this year in Alabama’s 2nd congressional district. While 2 Republican women sought the nomination to replace her this year, they were defeated in the primary election. As a result, Alabama is sure to have no Republican women in Congress in 2021.
- Phyllis Harvey-Hall (D) won the Democratic nomination in Alabama’s 2nd congressional district, an open seat created by Roby’s retirement that strongly favors the Republican nominee according to Cook Political Report.
- Incumbent Representative Terri Sewell (D) was unopposed in her primary bid for re-election in Alabama’s 7th congressional district. She has no Republican opponent this fall.
- Adia Winfrey (D) was unopposed in her bid for the Democratic nomination in Alabama’s 3rd congressional district. She will challenge incumbent Representative Mike Rogers (R) in a general election in which Rogers is strongly favored to win according to Cook Political Report.
All 3 (3D) women nominees for the U.S. House from Alabama are Black women. In addition, Kiani Gardner (D) – who will advance to the Democratic primary runoff election in Alabama’s 1st congressional district – identifies as Asian/Pacific Islander.
Statewide Elected Executive Office
Just one statewide elected executive office is up for election in Alabama in 2020: Public Service Commissioner. Incumbent Twinkle Cavanaugh (R) won the Republican nomination for re-election. She will be challenged by Laura Casey (D), who won the Democratic nomination on March 3rd.
While women will be 100% of major-party candidates for statewide elected executive office on the ballot in November, they are just 2 of 10 (20%) statewide elected executive officeholders in Alabama today: Governor Kay Ivey (R) and Public Service Commission Twinkle Cavanaugh (R).
There were no women candidates for the U.S. Senate in Arkansas this year. Incumbent Senator Tom Cotton ran uncontested in the Republican primary and Democrats did not put forth any candidate to be Cotton’s challenger in the general election.
2 (2D) women have served in the U.S. Senate from Arkansas: Blanche Lincoln (D) served from 1999 to 2010 and Hattie Wyatt Caraway (D) served from 1931 to 1944. While first appointed to office, Caraway became the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 1932.
Arkansas is currently one of 12 states with no women in their congressional delegation. No woman has served in the U.S. House from Arkansas since Blanche Lincoln’s term ended in January 1997.
In 2020, Women are 2 of 7 (28.6%) major-party nominees for U.S. House in Arkansas, including 2 of 3 (66.7%) Democrats and 0 of 4 (0%) Republicans. Each of these U.S. House primary candidates was uncontested in their bids for nomination.
- The 2 Democratic women nominees will challenge Republican incumbents in districts deemed to be solidly Republican by Cook Political Report, including: Joyce Elliott (AR-02) and Celeste Williams (AR-03).
Joyce Elliott (D, AR-02), who identifies as Black, is the only woman of color nominee for the U.S. House. Arkansas has never sent a woman of color to the U.S. Congress.
There are no statewide executive elections in Arkansas this year.
Women are currently 17 (17D) of 53 members of the CA delegation to the U.S. House.
As of March 24th, women are 34 of 98 (34.7%) nominees for U.S. House already selected in California, but even more women candidates are in contests that have not yet been called. CAWP will update this post as results are confirmed. Of the 34 (24D, 10R) nominees already selected, 16 (16D) are incumbents, 4 (4D) will run for open seats, and 14 (4D, 10R) will run as challengers to incumbents in November.
- Of the 14 (4D, 10R) women challengers already nominated, only 2 (2R) are running in districts deemed competitive by Cook Political Report: Young Kim (R, CA-39), who was the Republican nominee in 2018 and lost by 3 points to Democrat Gil Cisneros, and Michelle Steel (R, CA-48). Both women identify as Asian/Pacific Islander.
- In the 4 open seat contests where women are running (CA-08, CA-25, CA-50, CA-53), 4 (4D) women candidates have secured a nomination thus far; Sara Jacobs (D) and Georgette Gomez (D) have advanced to the general election to replace Representative Susan Davis in California's 53rd congressional district, ensuring that a woman will fill that seat. Jacobs ran for the U.S. House in 2018 in California's 49th congressional district, but did not advance to the general election. In California's 25th congressional district, current California Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D) has advanced to the general election to fill the vacancy created by Representative Katie Hill's (D) resignation last year. Both women are running in districts that favor Democrats. Christine Bubser (D) has advanced to the general election in California's 8th congressional district, which currently favors Republicans according to Cook Political Report.
- Results are still too close to call for remaining women candidates in open seat contests.
- 2 (1D, 1R) women were on the ballot for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina this year. They were both defeated in their respective party primaries. Incumbent Senator Thom Tillis (R) will run for re-election in November in a contest currently deemed leaning Republican by Cook Political Report.
- Just two women have served in the U.S. Senate from North Carolina: Kay Hagan (D) served from 2009-2014 and Elizabeth Dole (R) served from 2003-2008.
Women are currently 2 (1D, 1R) of 13 members of the North Carolina delegation to the U.S. House.
Women are 7 of 25 (28%) major-party nominees for U.S. House already selected in North Carolina, including 5 of 13 (38.5%) Democrats and 2 of 12 (16.7%). One more woman – Lynda Bennett – has advanced to the runoff Republican primary election on May 12th. 5 (3D, 2R) women House candidates were unsuccessful in their primary bids for the U.S. House.
- Both incumbent women – Republican Virginia Foxx (NC-05) and Democrat Alma Adams (NC-12) will be nominees in November and both are strongly favored for re-election according to Cook Political Report.
- 2 (2D) women are nominees for open seats in two districts (NC-02 and NC-06) that are currently favored to flip from Republican to Democrat in November. Both Democratic women nominees – Kathy Manning (NC-06) and Deborah Ross (NC-02) – previously ran and won nominations for the U.S. Congress, but were unsuccessful in general elections.
- 3 (2D, 1R) women will challenge incumbents in districts where those incumbents are favored to win according to Cook Political Report: Sandra Smith (R, NC-01), Patricia Timmons-Goodson (D, NC-08), and Cynthia Wallace (D, NC-09).
- In North Carolina’s 11th District, Lynda Bennett (R) was 1 of 2 women in a 12-person field for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Representative Mark Meadows (R). She will advance to the runoff election in May, already having the endorsement of the incumbent. This race is currently rated as solidly Republican by Cook Political Report, indicating another potential gain for women in North Carolina’s congressional delegation.
Of the 7 women who are major-party nominees for the U.S. House from North Carolina, 3 (3D) are Black women: incumbent Representative Alma Adams (NC-12), Cynthia Wallace (NC-09), and Patricia Timmons-Goodson (NC-08).
Statewide Elected Executive Office
Women are currently 3 (2D, 1R) of 10 statewide elected executive officials in North Carolina. All 10 offices, including governor, are up for election in 2020.
This year, women are 6 of 19 (31.6%) major-party nominees for statewide elected executive offices already selected in North Carolina, including 5 of 9 (55.6%) Democrats and 1 of 10 (10%) Republicans. 2 (2D) more women will compete in the Democratic primary runoff election for Lieutenant Governor. 7 (2D, 5R) women candidates were unsuccessful in their primary bids for statewide elected executive offices.
- Both Democratic incumbents will run for re-election in November; Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D) was uncontested in the primary State Auditor Beth Wood (D) won the Democratic nomination.
- Republican Incumbent Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry (R) did not run for re-election this year. She is the only Republican woman ever elected to statewide executive office in North Carolina.
- 3 (2D, 1R) women nominees will run for open statewide elected executive offices:
- Jessica Holmes (D) was uncontested as the Democratic candidate for Commissioner of Labor.
- Jen Mangrum (D) and Catherine Truitt (R) will compete against each other this fall to become Superintendent of Public Instruction.
- Jenna Wadsworth (D) won the Democratic nomination to challenge incumbent Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler (R) in November.
Of the 6 women who are major-party nominees for the statewide elected executive offices in North Carolina, 1 (1D) is a Black woman: Jessica Holmes (D), nominee for Commissioner of Labor. Yvonne Lewis Holley (D), who has advanced to the runoff to be the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor, is also Black. North Carolina has never elected a woman of color to statewide elected office.
MJ Hegar has advanced to a runoff election for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate from Texas. The winner of the runoff will challenge incumbent Senator John Cornyn (R) in November in a contest deemed solidly Republican by Cook Political Report.
- Just one woman has served in the U.S. Senate from Texas: Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R) served from 1993-2012. Hegar would be the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate from Texas.
- Hegar was the Democratic nominee in Texas’ 31s congressional district in 2018; she lost to incumbent Representative John Carter by 3 points in the general election.
Women are currently 6 (5D, 1R) of 36 members of the Texas delegation to the U.S. House.
Women are 18 of 56 (32.1%) nominees for U.S. House already selected in Texas and another 12 (7D, 5R) women have advanced to runoff elections on May 26, 2020. Of the 18 (13D, 5R) nominees selected, 6 (5D, 1R) are incumbents, 10 (7D, 3R) will run as challengers to incumbents, and 2 (1D, 1R) will run for open seats in November. 36 (14D, 22R) women House candidates were unsuccessful in their primary bids for the U.S. House.
- Gina Ortiz Jones is the Democratic nominee in Texas’ 23rd congressional district, where she narrowly lost to incumbent Representative Will Hurd (R) in 2018. This year, the seat is open and is currently rated as leaning Democratic in Jones’ favor. If elected in November, Jones would be the first Asian/Pacific Islander woman in Congress from Texas as well as the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress from Texas.
- Even with a Democratic primary runoff yet to be held, we know that the general election contest for Texas’ 24th congressional district will be between 2 women. Beth Van Duyne (R) has secured the Republican nomination and 2 women will compete for the Democratic nomination in May. This open seat, though currently held by a Republican, is deemed a toss-up by Cook Political Report.
- Of the 10 (7D, 3R) women candidates already nominated to challenge incumbents in November, only 2 (1D, 1R) are running in a contest currently deemed competitive by Cook Political Report. Former state senator and gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis (D) is will challenge incumbent Representative Chip Roy (R) in Texas’ 21st congressional district, which is currently rated as leaning Republican. Genevieve Collins (R) will challenge incumbent Representative Colin Allred (D) in Texas’ 32nd congressional district, which is currently rated as leaning Democrat.
Statewide Elected Executive Office
Cristi Craddick (R) is the only woman currently holding statewide elected executive office in Texas. She is 1 of 3 railroad commissioners. There are 9 total statewide elected executive offices in Texas.
This year, one of the three railroad commissioner offices, not Craddick’s, is up for election. It is the only statewide executive election in Texas in 2020. One woman – Chrysta Castañeda – has advanced to the Democratic primary runoff election on May 26, 2020. If successful, she will oppose Jim Wright, who defeated incumbent Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton in the Republican primary election.
For primary results summaries from other states and full context about women in the 2020 elections, including candidate lists, summaries, and historical comparisons, see CAWP’s Election Watch page.
Tomorrow is Super Tuesday and, in addition to the presidential contest, we'll see the first congressional and statewide primaries of the 2020 election cycle. CAWP wanted to get some insights on the Super Tuesday contests, so we called on a group of expert scholars and practitioners to tell us what they're watching for tomorrow, as part of our series of expert outlook compilation posts that we'll be sharing throughout the 2020 elections. Our group of experts were provided this prompt:
Super Tuesday marks not only a key moment in the presidential primary, but also the first congressional and statewide primary elections of the 2020 cycle (with congressional primaries held in AL, AR, CA, NC, and TX). What gender and intersectional dynamics or stories will you be watching on Super Tuesday?
Here's what we heard back.
The race gap in the gender gap. - Cate Gormley, Vice President of Lake Research Partners
I can’t underscore how important women voters are in 2020. But I’m not interested in “women” as a whole, I’m keeping my eye on how women across races compare to their male counterparts.
With a crowded field and only 4% of delegates pledged to candidates so far, Super Tuesday is going to matter a lot. Using polling data from the past four weeks from YouGov, the Economist is tracking candidate support by demographic groups. There are clear patterns of support among men and women for Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Senator Elizabeth Warren; there is less of a race-by-gender gap for other candidates.
Sanders has more support from men than women, and he’s doing better among white and Black men than white and Black women. He is also doing better with men than women who are neither white, Black, nor Latinx. It looks like Latinx voters are a core constituency for Sanders, but there is little difference between Latinx men and women. I’m keeping my eye on Texas and California, states with sizable Latinx populations.
Biden has more support from women than men and more support among Black voters than white or Latinx voters. Black women are more likely than Black men to support Biden. Will Black women deliver delegates to Biden across the South?
Warren’s support tends to come from white voters more than Black or Latinx voters, and from women more than men. Indeed, white women are more likely than white men to support Elizabeth Warren. After her strong debate performances over the past few weeks, are more white women shifting to Warren?
Democratic primary voters are doing all sorts of calculations to figure out which candidate both aligns with their values and can beat Trump in November. Across races, men and women are coming up with different solutions.
I’ll be looking for how the candidates signal to Black women voters. - Nadia E. Brown, Associate Professor of Political Science at Purdue University
Democrats are rightfully paying attention to Black women as key voters this election cycle. Indeed, Black women are the most active voting bloc within the American electorate. Black women overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates. For example, the 2018 midterm elections saw Black women support Democrats at a rate of 94% compared to 84% of Black men. Indeed, it is Black women who led efforts to mobilize family and friends which lead to increased voter turnout in 2018. Black women are expected to cast nearly 11 million votes in 2020. Attention to the “Black vote” is incomplete if one does not include a gendered analysis.
Elizabeth Warren, more than any other candidate, seems to understand the need to engage with Black women on the issues and policies that impact them the most. Black Women for Warren and #BWFWarren on twitter explicate why transactional politics always leave Black women behind. Julian Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Mayor of San Antonio, was another Democratic presidential candidate who sought to woo Black voters by paying special attention to how the lived experiences of Black women influenced their policy preferences. Castro’s campaign manager was Maya Rupert, an African American woman, who stressed that Democratic Black women vote for progressive policies that not only impact them but other marginalized populations.
My published research with collaborators Christina E. Bejarano, Sarah Allen Gershon and Celeste Montoya find that Blck women have the highest level of intersectional linked fate but are least likely to prefer out-group candidates. However, Black women did not readily support Kamala Harris or Cory Booker as they sought the Democratic nomination. How are candidates talking about Black women, not just an appeal to a monolithic Black voter, through an intersectional articulation of policy stances? I'm watching the nuanced returns of the Super Tuesday contests to learn if Black women voters - a key demographic group for Democrats - are supporting candidates who directly speak to the issues that they prioritize.
Black women’s candidate calculus. - Glynda Carr, President and CEO of Higher Heights for America
Black women account for a decisive percentage of the electorate in several of the fourteen states and the U.S territory up for grabs on Super Tuesday. Their historically high turnout at the polls means everyone is watching to see what effect their votes have on creating a path for the Democratic presidential nominee.
To be sure, Black women’s votes will be decisive. We expect to see consistent, committed voter turnout. But we’re watching to see whether they show up en masse for a single candidate the way most campaigns and analysts gamble they will – no matter how much they’re reminded Black women voters are not a monolith. Many Black women feel uninspired and unrepresented by the current crop of candidates, so they’re engaged in a complex game of math to choose the one who offers the best possibility for elevating and protecting their families, communities, and them. How that equation functions may well depend on age, geography, and economic experience. The common thread, however, is Black women voters want to select a candidate who can win: someone who can offer more responsive, less volatile leadership at home and abroad.
In addition to the presidential primaries, we’re keeping an eye on how Black women candidates perform in states with down-ballot races this Super Tuesday. Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina and Texas will each have local, state, and federal candidates on their primary ballots. Twenty-two Black women are on the ballot running for federal and statewide offices in North Carolina and Texas, so we’ll be watching to see how they do.
Watching Latinas in California and Texas. - Anna Sampaio, Associate Professor and Chair of Department of Ethnic Studies at Santa Clara University
How will Latina support for the Democratic candidates shape outcome of elections on Super Tuesday, especially in delegate rich states of California and Texas? Latina/o/x voting behavior indicates that Latinas, more than Latinos, drive increases in registration and turnout across all national origin groups within the Latina/o/x electorate. With over 32 million eligible voters in 2020, Latinas/os/xs are projected to become the largest minority voting population this year, making their voting preferences even more significant in states like California and Texas, where they comprise approximately 40% of the population and are likely to account for around 20% of the electorate.
In addition, Latinas historically favor more liberal candidates and policies than Latino males, leading to an increasing gender gap in the population and favoring more liberal Democrats in the past presidential elections. Recognizing the potential power Latinas hold, candidates such as Elizabeth Warren launched a targeted campaign entitled “Latinas Fight, Latinas Win,” while the Sanders campaign invested heavily in Latina/o/x outreach and mobilization this election season. The impact of these investments will be measured most strongly on Tuesday in California and Texas and are likely to either cement or re-direct momentum in the remaining primaries.
I’ll be interested in the youth vote on Super Tuesday. Will they turnout, how will they vote, and will there be any significant gender and racial differences among Gen Z voters? – Melissa Deckman, Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at Washington College
Much attention has been paid to the age gap among Democratic primary voters this presidential primary season, with Senator Bernie Sanders enjoying a much greater lead among young voters. I’m anxious to see, however, whether any particular gender gaps emerge among the newest generation of voters, Gen Z Americans, born after 1996. Will the presence of Elizabeth Warren on the ballot potentially siphon any young female voters? Will the youth vote differ in the South and Midwest from other states? Will the Gen Z vote also be marked by racial differences, given it is the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort of voters? And will the youth vote actually materialize in any great number? For instance, in the 2018 midterms, turnout among college women more than doubled from 2014 to 43 percent. I’m anxious to see to what extent Gen Z, and relatedly, Millennial voters, will impact the voting results compared with older Americans on Tuesday.
The age gap in the gender gap. - Mary-Kate Lizotte, Associate Professor in the Master of Public Administration program at Augusta University
If the only voters were women, we would consistently have Democratic presidents. This conceals the fact that not all women, even all Democratic women, share the same preferences. The Democratic presidential primary is an opportunity to see how subgroups of women differ in their vote choice. One prominent difference likely to be evident on Super Tuesday is that younger and older women will likely vote for different Democratic candidates. Similarly to the 2008 Democratic primary when younger women voted for Obama and older women voted for Clinton, we will likely see a similar split with younger women voting for Sanders and older women voting for Warren. Perhaps this divide between younger and older women is due to candidate messaging with younger women drawn to Sanders’ “revolution.” Identity politics assuredly contributes to this divide as well with older women in the Democratic Party yearning to see a woman elected to the White House. Ideology may also be a factor with younger women tending to be more liberal than older women in their policy positions. Ultimately, it will be vital for the Democratic presidential nominee to shore up support among all subgroups of women in the Democratic Party.
How will the presidential line affect strategic voting for women in down-ballot races? - Melissa Michelson, Professor of Political Science at Menlo College
Super Tuesday poses the last chance for someone other than a straight White man to generate enough momentum to take the Democratic presidential nomination. The one gay candidate, Pete Buttigieg, has dropped out, and the women candidates failed in most previous contests to reach viability to win delegates. I’ll be watching to see just how many votes Warren gets outside of her home state of Massachusetts. Overall, however, I expect to see an ongoing mismatch between how many voters say they would be comfortable voting for a woman for president and how much support these specific women get at the polls. I'm also keeping a close eye on Texas, where it seems very likely that a woman will take the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate race, although perhaps only after a May runoff. There’s a huge amount of voter uncertainty in that race and I think many voters will go to the polls only thinking about the presidential race. This might help the women in the race, if voters choosing a male candidate for president think that voting for a woman for Senate helps balance out their choices.
Similarly, and more locally, I'm watching the California State Senate race in the 13th district, where there’s a large pool of candidates running for termed out Democrat Jerry Hill’s seat. One candidate – Josh Becker – is endorsed by Hill, Governor Gavin Newsom, and other prominent Democrats. But in a crowded race with multiple strong candidates and plenty of outside money – and again with the thought that voters might try to balance out their desire to support women while voting for a male candidate for the Democratic nominee, it’s possible that his opponent in November (thanks to California’s unique top-two-vote-getter primary system) will be a woman. There are two strong women in the primary: Sally Lieber and Shelly Masur. Overall, in both races I'm expecting the women candidates to outperform their polling numbers as voters make strategic choices in the presidential primary.
Will there be a correlation between women’s increased political participation, especially in fundraising, and who secures delegates on Super Tuesday? - Grace Haley, Gender and Race Researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics
Bernie Sanders, the candidate with the most money coming from women, is leading the race going into Super Tuesday. However, only one-third of his itemized contributions come from women donors. What are the implications for a candidate to have both the most contributions from women and a notable gender gap in the percent of dollars coming from women?
The growth of political organizing by women since the 2016 elections, as evidenced by their increased political giving, is important to watch. Over 2 million women have already donated to the 2020 election, which is a record breaking feat. But for every dollar we've tracked that goes to a presidential candidate, about 56 cents comes from a man and 44 cents from a woman.
Most of the candidates left in the race are the candidates who’ve consistently had most of their money coming from men, and the two top candidates (Biden, Sanders) get the majority of their funds from men. Elizabeth Warren is the only candidate left in the race who has raised even funds from both women and men. Men are in sum giving more, and giving more to the candidates who are men.
Women, and men, are not a monolithic fundraising bloc. And women, especially women of color, have historically been politically active in a myriad of ways outside of the money-in-politics realm. Like all voting blocs, they have policy perspectives and priorities that extend beyond representation. So when looking at fundraising patterns, I’m thinking: at what cost does fundraising prowess translate to political power, and to whose advantage and whose detriment?
Many Virginia female state legislators are campaigning for their preferred Democratic presidential nominee, but not the three women in Virginia’s congressional delegation – Reps. Luria, Spanberger, and Wexton - who face tough re-election contests in 2020 - Rosalyn Cooperman, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Mary Washington
In recent visits to Virginia ahead of Tuesday’s Super Tuesday primary, Democratic presidential candidates have relied on female state legislators to fire up crowds and secure votes. At a rally in Northern Virginia on February 13, State Delegate Kathy Tran (VA-42) and State Senator Ghazala Hashmi (VA-10) each spoke on behalf of Senator Elizabeth Warren and Hashmi introduced Warren as a “fighter for social justice.”
When Mayor Mike Bloomberg appeared in Richmond a few days later at the Democratic Party of Virginia’s Blue Commonwealth Gala, Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (VA-41) praised Bloomberg’s “years of commitment” to state Democrats. Bloomberg has also been endorsed by Virginia State Delegates Laschrecse Aird (VA-63) and Nancy Guy (VA-83) as well as Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Senator Bernie Sanders is scheduled to visit Virginia this weekend; State Delegate Elizabeth Guzman (VA-31) has endorsed Sanders.
Although many Virginia female Democratic state legislators are happy to serve as surrogates for their preferred presidential contender, the three women Democratic Members of Congress from Virginia, Representatives Elaine Luria (VA-2), Abigail Spanberger (VA-7), and Jennifer Wexton (VA-10), each of whom defeated Republican incumbents in the 2018 congressional midterms and face competitive re-election bids in 2020, have been less visible in their support for a Democratic presidential nominee.
Representative Luria, who defeated Rep. Scott Taylor with 51.1% of the vote, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden in January 2020. Representatives Spanberger, who defeated Rep. Dave Brat with 50.3% of the vote, and Wexton, who defeated Rep. Barbara Comstock with 56% of the vote, have not endorsed any of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, though Wexton has indicated she would not be voting for Sanders in the 2020 Virginia primary. For these three freshman representatives, whose races have all been identified as competitive by Cook Political Report, a win for Bernie Sanders in Virginia and a strong performance by Sanders in other Super Tuesday states would certainly complicate their re-election bids and their work thus far to establish themselves as moderate Democrats.
How will presidential results impact down-ballot races? - Dianne Bystrom, Director Emerita of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University
I will be looking for any interesting correlations between the Democratic women who win their congressional primaries and the Democratic presidential candidates who win in their states on Super Tuesday. In states that Bernie Sanders wins, will self-identified progressive Democratic women do well? Or can a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist win at the top of the ticket, while Democratic candidates who better fit the profile of the congressional district win their down-ballot primaries? Will a strong turnout of women voters to support Elizabeth Warren affect Democratic women running for other offices? Warren has said she is relying on women voters on Super Tuesday. Her campaign and its supporters seem to be appealing directly to college-educated women who are angry about gendered treatment by the media, especially about her electability, different standards to which she is held on providing policy details, and/or their perception that she is being erased from coverage. If these women turn out for Warren in certain states, will that impact women running congressional and statewide races? Finally, I'll be looking at how the 93 women – 49 Democrats and 44 Republicans –running against other women in contested primaries for the U.S. House in Alabama, California, North Carolina, and Texas fare.
We talk about down-ballot effects of the candidates for president, but what about up-ballot effects of candidates at the state and congressional levels? - Erin Cassese, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations
There’s been some discussion that selection of the “wrong” presidential nominee could hurt Democratic candidates across the board in down ballot races, ostensibly by depressing interest and enthusiasm around the 2020 elections or by reducing confidence in the party.
In the recent South Carolina debate, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg gave voice to these fears in an attack on front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders:
“We just cannot afford some of this stuff people talk about. If you keep on going, we will elect Bernie. Bernie will lose to Donald Trump. And Donald Trump and the House and the Senate and some of the statehouses will all go red. And then, between gerrymandering and appointing judges, for the next 20 or 30 years, we're going to live with this catastrophe.”
This top-down perspective on voter behavior is perhaps a bit hyperbolic, and it overlooks the potential for countervailing campaign dynamics at lower levels of office. Voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections was at its highest rate in the past 100 years. The elections were record breaking in terms of candidate diversity in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion, with many of these candidates earning national attention and drawing out-of-district fundraising support. For instance, in 2018, Democratic women outperformed male competitors to make up almost half of all Democratic nominees for Congress. For open seats, women’s win rate was much higher than men’s, which many interpreted as a sign that women’s candidacies were resonating with Democratic voters. But with the media focused on a crowded primary field, it’s been hard for rising stars at the state level to break through. And selection of the presidential nominee is, of course, critical. Still, voter mobilization will also turn on engagement with down-ballot races, and Super Tuesday should provide us with some fresh insights about the talent pool for both parties, in these congressional primaries.
How will Super Tuesday results impact media narratives about electability and viability? - Kathleen Dolan, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin
As Super Tuesday plays out, I’ll be looking to see how the women and men running for president are evaluated as the dust settles. At the end of the day on March 3rd, voters in 15 states will have made their choices, giving us (potentially) a clearer picture of who remains viable for the Democratic nomination. The pressure for candidates to drop out has begun to build and Super Tuesday results will heighten the call for consolidation in the field. If there is no single candidate who sweeps multiple states, if there are mixed results across the 14 states, what will these calls for consolidation look like and how will candidates be treated? If Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren have similar net results, will the calls for them to drop out be equally focused? Will the media continue to ignore Elizabeth Warren unless she wins multiple states on Super Tuesday? Will Michael Bloomberg’s spending power give him “viability” that his recent debate performances don’t necessarily support? If Bernie Sanders runs the table, will these considerations be irrelevant? In a cycle when the women candidates have faced a more challenging media environment and greater questions about their viability, it will be important to take stock of whose candidacies are still seen to have a feasible chance of continuing and who will be pressured to pack it in.
I’ll be watching Warren...but also the diverse women vying for the Senate in North Carolina and Texas. - Jennifer M. Piscopo, Associate Professor of Politics at Occidental College
All eyes are on the presidential primary, as Elizabeth Warren fights from behind to win delegates in key states like California, Texas, and North Carolina. Voters appear unconvinced by Warren’s policy wonkishness, warming instead to Sanders’ firebrand style and, while he was still in the race, Buttigieg’s inspirational words. Yet such strategies might never have worked for Warren, given gender stereotypes that view yelling women as aggressive and reassuring women as patronizing.
Warren is not the only woman underdog. Democrats have a chance to flip a Senate seat in North Carolina, given incumbent senator Thom Tillis’s rock-bottom favorability ratings. The primary race is between former state senator Cal Cunningham and current state senator Erica Smith. Cunningham is the establishment favorite. A veteran Democrat, he’s dramatically out fundraised Smith. But polls show the more progressive Smith beating Tillis by a ten point margin – and she would be the first Black woman elected statewide in North Carolina.
In Texas, a dozen Democratic candidates are vying to challenge Republican Senator John Cornyn in the general election. Women fill the crowded field: MJ Hegar, an air force veteran who narrowly lost her 2018 house race; Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a Latina labor organizer; Annie Garcia, a self-described “one fed-up Mama”; and Amanda Edwards, a Black city councilwoman from Houston. Hegar’s name recognition has given her the edge. Her website features her raising her kids – but also flying choppers, riding motorbikes, and suing the Pentagon over women’s combat exclusion. At least at the state level, there’s many more ways to be a woman candidate.
Will Democratic candidates disrupt Trump’s deployment of gender? - Dan Cassino, Associate Professor of Political Science at Farleigh Dickinson University
While we’re waiting for the Super Tuesday returns, I’m going to be paying attention to the gendered narratives being used to describe the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, as it’s likely to tell us a lot about how November’s election is shaping up. In past elections, Democratic nominees – both male and female – have been characterized as having overly feminine traits. For instance, 2004 nominee John Kerry, a decorated veteran, was shown wind-surfing, rather than engaging in traditionally masculine sports, and was decried as too soft to protect the country. Wariness about such attacks seems to have led 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton to stress traits that are generally perceived as masculine, such as toughness, rather than policies and traits that could be perceived as feminine. With an incumbent President who’s made a political career out of claiming a monopoly on masculinity, will the Democratic candidates be presented as masculine rivals, as when Joe Biden has talked about beating the hell out of the President, or the way in which Michael Bloomberg has belittled Trump’s wealth acumen? Or will we see the race framed as a fight between masculine and feminine traits, with a Democratic nominee who’s looking to bring compromise and moderation? Whether the November election is a race between a man and a woman or not, it’s likely to be a race about gender, and the framing of that race starts now.
Increasing diversity, and ideological diversity, of the women in Congress. - Michele Swers, Professor Department of Government, Georgetown University
The Super Tuesday congressional primaries will provide the first indication of whether Democrats will continue to add more women of color to their ranks, as they did in 2018. The Tuesday contests will also determine whether Republicans will take steps to build up their ranks of female members after the 2018 losses left them with only 13 female House incumbents. Texas and California will be particularly important states to watch. In 2018, Texas elected its first two Latina women to Congress. This cycle, Asian American Gina Ortiz Jones has a good chance of winning an open seat vacated by Will Hurd, the incumbent who narrowly defeated her in 2018. Two Latina candidates with EMILY’s List endorsements are engaged in competitive primaries. Candace Valenzuela is competing for an open seat, while Jessica Cisneros is challenging Democratic incumbent Henry Cuellar from the left with an endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who won a similar primary race against an incumbent in 2018.
For Republicans to elect more women they need female nominees to emerge in safe seats such as Alabama’s 2nd congressional district where Jessica Taylor, a pro-life small businesswoman endorsed by Susan B Anthony List is one of 7 Republicans competing to replace retiring representative Martha Roby. However, there are few Republican women contesting the safe seats being vacated by retiring Republicans in Texas. Instead, most of the Republican women running in primaries in California and Texas are in swing districts and will face competitive races against Democrats if they advance to the general election. These types of seats are harder to keep, when wave elections sweep against the member’s party, making it harder for these Republican women to build the seniority that leads to power in Congress.
Women of Color and Statewide Executive Elective Office - Kira Sanbonmatsu, Professor of Political Science and Senior Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University
I will be watching to see if any women of color move forward as major party nominees for statewide executive offices such as governor, lieutenant governor, or secretary of state. Looking back to 2018, CAWP found that 10 new women of color won statewide executive positions. Fewer of these statewide positions are elected during presidential election years compared with midterm election years, meaning that there are fewer opportunities this cycle. Unfortunately, statewide executive offices remain elusive for women of color: fewer than 5% of all statewide executives are women of color.
Notes from Colorado - Celeste Montoya, Associate Professor of Women & Gender Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder
In 2018, almost two-thirds of the ballots cast by registered Democrats in Colorado were from women. This led to the Democrats sweeping not only the Governor’s mansion, but both of the statehouses. In 2020, I will be watching to see to what extent that pattern may be repeated and how that may play out in the primary results. Some interesting facets of the Colorado election include that this is the first election where there is a presidential primary open to unaffiliated voters. This reform was initiated by independent Bernie voters who couldn’t caucus for him in the 2016 primary. It is not certain this will work in his favor in 2020. Colorado is a state with a strong tradition of independent voters, but many who tend to lean more conservative than progressive. Also relevant is how the presidential primary may impact turnout of the caucuses still being held (this coming Saturday) for other down ballot races, including the Senate race in which caucus goers will be able to support candidates looking to challenge Cory Gardner, a vulnerable Republican who has tied himself closely to Trump. There are five candidates going through the caucus and assembly process to make it on the ballot (there are an additional five attempting to so through the petition process). Of the five caucus candidates, two are women, including Stephanie Rose Spaulding, a professor of Women’s and Ethnic Studies, who would make history as the first African American woman to represent Colorado. While former governor John Hickenlooper has a significant incumbent advantage, Colorado voters using a #genderlens may be looking for something different.
A record number of women ran for and were elected to office in 2018. Their success resulted in claims of a “women’s wave” or another “Year of the Woman” in American politics. But the 2018 election neither upended gender disparities in political representation nor gendered hurdles for women candidates in the U.S. Much of the attention to gender and the 2020 election has been focused on the Democratic presidential primary, but that contest is only one part of the gender story of election 2020. More than 500 offices at the congressional and statewide level (and many more in state legislative contests) are also up for election this year, providing multiple sites for us to evaluate not only the numerical presence and progress for women, but also the different ways in which gender shapes campaign terrain for all candidates.
Ahead of the first congressional primaries of 2020, I’ll focus here on who’s running for office this year, leaving the analysis of how they are running – and specifically, how they are navigating gender and intersectional dynamics on the campaign trail – to the many election analyses that we will share throughout this election season.
After record numbers of women ran and won in 2018, will the 2020 election bring a comparable or even larger pool of women candidates running for the U.S. House?
It is too early to give final counts for women running in 2020, but we can compare the number of women who are likely to run (they have filed or reported they plan to file) at this point in 2020 to the same point in the 2018 race. Based on comparisons at the end of February 2018 and 2020, more women are running this year; 584 women are likely House candidates today versus 437 women at this point in 2018. But this 33.6% increase from 2018 numbers is not as large as the jump in women’s candidacies we saw between 2016 and 2018; at this point in 2018, the number of likely women House candidates was double the number in 2016. Likewise, if current numbers hold this year, the increase in women House candidates from 2018 would be about 22.7% from the record number women who filed for House contests in 2018 (476). This, again, is a smaller jump than we saw in 2018, when the total number of filed women candidates for the U.S. House was up by 74.4% from 2016.
Will women come closer to parity with men in the pool of 2020 House candidates?
In 2018, women were 24.2% of all U.S. House candidates who appeared on primary ballots. At this point in 2020 – among only the 13 states where filing deadlines passed before March 1 (45% of all House seats), women are 26.7% of all House candidates. This indicates there is potential that the gender gap in candidacies might close slightly this year, but women are still far underrepresented in the candidate pool. Again, signs thus far are that the gains in 2018 were greater than we might see this year; women went from 17.8% of all House candidates in 2016 to 24.2% in 2018.
Do Super Tuesday states tell us anything about the trends for women candidates this year?
If we limit our comparisons to just the 5 states that hold congressional primaries this week – Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, and Texas – we see similar trends in women’s representation on U.S. House ballots. This year, 150 (89D, 61R) women will be on House ballots in these 5 states, up from 126 (95D, 31R) in 2018 (+19%). The number of open House seats across these 5 states is also up this year, from 10 in 2018 to 15 in 2020. Open seats are likely to attract more candidates to run, men and women alike.
Another way to better account for that change in political opportunity is to look at women’s representation among all House candidates running this week. Women are 27.3% of all House candidates on Super Tuesday ballots, compared to 24.8% of House candidates in the same states in 2018. Therefore, even in a more opportune environment for all, women candidates’ rate of increase is greater than the rate among men.
But what about party differences? The gender stories for Republican and Democratic women in election 2018 were very different. Will 2020 prove to be a better year for the recruitment and/or success of women in the Republican Party?
Based on comparisons at the end of February 2018 and 2020, more Democratic and Republican women are running this year, but the rate of increase is higher for Republican women. This trend is opposite of what we saw in 2018, when the “surge” of women running for the U.S. House was almost entirely fueled by Democrats. While Democratic women still significantly outnumber Republican women candidates – representing more than 60% of all likely women House candidates at this point in 2020, their numbers are only about 7.6% higher than they were at this point in 2018. In contrast, the number of likely Republican women House candidates is more than double (+126%) what it was at this point in the 2018 race.
Citing this apparent reversal in party trends between 2018 and 2020 merits a few caveats in anticipating outcomes this year. First, because the pool of Republican women candidates continues to be smaller than Democrats, the higher rate of increase will yield smaller overall gains in women’s candidacies than the gains we saw from 2016 to 2018 (as indicated in the data above). Also, in anticipating success for women candidates this year, we have to consider the political environment for Democrats and Republicans. In 2018, Democrats fared better than Republicans across the board, and the record number of Democratic women candidates both capitalized on and contributed to those gains. Will 2020 be an equally opportune year for Republicans, especially those challenging Democrats? That will matter for Republican women, among whom the majority (64.5%) are running to challenge Democratic incumbents this year.
Finally, not all trends in women’s candidacies are seeing a party reversal in 2020. Democratic women not only continue to outnumber Republican women House candidates, but they also continue to fare better as a percentage of all candidates in their party. At this point in 2020 – among only the 13 states where filing deadlines passed before March 1 (45% of all House seats), women are 34.9% of Democratic House candidates and 18.9% of Republican House candidates.
Still, Republican women’s gains as a percentage of their party’s House candidates are greater than that of Democratic women. In 2018, women were 32.5% of all Democratic House candidates and 13.7% of all Republican House candidates. Likewise, Republican women are better represented among their party’s candidates in this week’s primaries in Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, and Texas than they were in 2018; in 2020, Republican women are 21% of Republican House candidates in these states, up from 13.1% of their party’s candidates in the same states in 2018. Democratic women are 34.4% of Democrats on House ballots in these states in 2020, compared to 34.9% in 2018.
Together, these data points suggest greater numeric progress – at least proportionately – for Republican women than Democratic women in 2020, but they are still playing catch-up.
Of course, numeric gains at the candidacy stage are just one measure of progress for women in electoral politics. Throughout election 2020, we will be watching how women fare – compared to men, as well as across party, level of office, and by race and ethnicity – as part of CAWP’s Election Watch. We will also be analyzing alternative measures of success and progress, including the ways in which women candidates disrupt the norms of both gender and candidacy as they run for office.
With the majority of primaries left to go and 8 more months until Election Day, the gender stories of election 2020 are only starting to be written.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked many political observers when she beat incumbent congressman Joe Crowley of New York in the 2018 Democratic primary. Crowley had held the Bronx/Queens based congressional seat since 1999. Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, was a 28-year old political novice and former Bernie Sanders organizer running a progressive, grass roots campaign that capitalized on her newcomer status and the need to elect someone who looked more like the community being represented.
Will other progressive candidates, inspired by the success of Ocasio-Cortez and fellow freshman Representative Ayanna Pressley, who ousted Michael Capuano in a similar 2018 contest, challenge high-profile Democratic incumbents in this year’s primary elections?
Anecdotally, there does seem to be some evidence of an “AOC Effect.” Articles in Marie Claire and Vox have highlighted some of the progressive women challenging moderate Democratic incumbents. For example, the Marie Claire piece highlighted Jessica Cisneros, a 26-year old immigration attorney running against seven-term incumbent Henry Cuellar, a conservative House Democrat. She has garnered endorsements from Elizabeth Warren, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Democratic leaders in the house like Steny Hoyer (MD), Jerry Nadler (NY), and Richard Neal (MA) all face primary challengers. Wondering if the AOC Effect is a real phenomenon, I took a look at some of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) data collected as of early February on the 2020 women candidates for the U.S. House.*
Here's what I found.
(1) A larger proportion of Democratic women candidates for the U.S. House are challenging incumbents of their own party than did in 2018.
Examining CAWP’s candidate data from early February 2020, I found some preliminary evidence that there is indeed an influx of Democratic women running as challengers in U.S. House primaries. Compared to 2018, when just 5.9% of Democratic women primary candidates ran as challengers to incumbents, 19.5% of Democratic women running in 2020 are doing so as primary challengers. This is also the highest percentage of Democratic women running as House challengers in the three decades that CAWP has collected this data.
(2) A larger proportion of Democratic women candidates than Republican women candidates for the U.S. House are challenging incumbents of their own party in 2020.
Additionally, if the hypothesis is that the Ocasio-Cortez’s success was particularly motivating to Democratic women challengers, the significant party difference in these data offers further support: while primary challengers are 19.5% of all Democratic women running for the House this year, only 5.9% of Republican women are challenging incumbents of their own party. You can also see this clearly in the raw numbers of women running. The total number of Democratic women running as primary challengers is higher than ever this year – a 228.6% increase from 2018 – while the number of Republican women primary challengers is down from the last congressional election.
(3) But historic evidence suggests these patterns are not entirely new to a post-AOC politic. Partisan control helps to explain the rise in Democratic women’s insurgent candidacies this year; similar proportions of women candidates – of both parties – ran as challengers when their party held the House majority.
The initial peek at the data does support the notion of an AOC Effect, but a deeper dive raises some doubts that there is something distinct happening with Democratic women this year. It’s possible that there are more Democratic than Republican primary challengers simply because more Democrats are now U.S. House incumbents; the path to success for non-incumbent women is more likely to be through a primary challenge for Democrats than Republicans. With more U.S. House districts held by Democrats nationwide, it’s no surprise that we see more Republican women running to challenge Democratic incumbents in the general election this year. Looking at trends over time offers further support that partisan control is an important indicator of women’s likelihood of running as primary challengers. A similar proportion of Republican women ran as primary challengers in 2012 (18.5%) – when Republicans held the majority of seats in the U.S. House – to the proportion of Democratic women running as primary challengers this year (19.5%), a difference that is not statistically significant. The pattern in the historical data suggests that the jump in Democratic women running as primary challengers can partially be attributed to the fact that this is the first time since 2010 that Democrats have controlled the House.
If this pattern is not distinct to Democrats, is there something about recent election years that has made women of both parties more likely to take on incumbents in their own parties? The historic trends offer little support that this dynamic is new. From 2014 to 2018, the proportion of Republican women running as primary challengers has remained consistent. Furthermore, if we look back to the early 90s when Democrats controlled the House, we see high percentages of women running as primary challengers (16.2% in 1990 and 18.4% in 1992).
(4) Still, the jump in the raw number of Democratic women House candidates running as primary challengers from 2018 to 2020 is unmatched in the past three decades.
Before we completely write off the AOC Effect, let’s return to the raw numbers. A record number of women ran for and were elected to office in 2018, and we are on track to beat that record in 2020. The size of the jump in Democratic women primary challengers from 2018 to 2020 (thus far) is noteworthy. At this point in election 2020, the overall number of likely Democratic women House candidates is roughly equal to the number of women who ran in 2018, but the number of primary challengers is more than 200% greater. This surge cannot be fully accounted for by the drop in the number of Democratic women running as challengers in the general election (-28%), nor even by the combined drop in these Democratic women running as general election challengers and those running for open seats (-28.9%).
The narrative that more progressive women are running as insurgent primary challengers and upsetting the establishment isn’t necessarily wrong. As the raw numbers show, more Democratic women are running as primary challengers. However, the story is not that simple. Accounting for historical trends and partisan indicators tempers conclusions that the success of two women Democratic primary contenders in 2018 opened the floodgates for more insurgent women to run this year.
Regardless of if or how many of the women running as primary challengers were inspired by the success of AOC and Ayanna Pressley, the electoral challenges they face are immense. Incumbency advantage is difficult to overstate. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the reelection rate for incumbents has consistently been over 85% within the last 60 years. The reelection rate for the House of Representatives was 97% in 2016. In 2018, out of the 39 women who ran as primary challengers, only 6 won their primary. Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley were the only general election winners. Incumbents have name recognition, campaign infrastructure, and fundraising advantages that newcomers don’t have. Even if the AOC Effect is real, these women have a tough path to victory.
* Data includes filed and likely women candidates, as many states still have yet to reach their filing deadline. These numbers will likely change by the end of the primary election season.