The 2020 sub-presidential primary election season kicked off on March 3rd with congressional and statewide primaries in Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, and Texas. But within weeks of those contests, the COVID-19 pandemic created entirely new electoral conditions across the country. In addition to shifting to mail-in voting as the primary mode for casting ballots, many states postponed primary elections until early summer. Many of those postponed primaries, in addition to the regularly-scheduled contests, will take place over the next 2 weeks.
Together, 12 states – Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia – will hold congressional and statewide primary elections on June 2nd and June 9th, with 1 more state – Idaho – reporting results from their May 19th election on June 2nd. This concentration of primary contests provides as an opportunity to evaluate gender and partisan trends at play not only in these contests, but throughout the 2020 election cycle.
1. The positive trend in women’s candidacies has continued beyond election 2018.
Earlier this month, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) marked a milestone in women’s candidacies in the 2020 cycle; a record number of women candidates have now filed to run for the U.S. House, surpassing the notable record that was set in 2018 with about 10% of House seats still left to file this year. The increase in women’s candidacies is important, as it demonstrates that the positive trend we witnessed in the 2018 election will continue into this cycle.
But women’s representation in the candidate pool must be considered in the company of men. Tracking the percentage of all candidates who are women better accounts for increased candidacies across both men and women. Women are 27.7% of all congressional and statewide executive candidates on ballots in June 2nd and June 9th primary elections, and this level of representation is fairly consistent across office type; women are 28.6% of U.S. House candidates, 29% of U.S. Senate candidates, and 23.3% of candidates for statewide executive offices being contested in early June. These percentages mirror women’s levels of representation across the entire population of filed candidates in 2020, which are up from 2018 at the congressional level, but down among candidates for statewide executive offices – of which there are far fewer contests nationwide this year.
Gender parity among U.S. officeholders requires greater gender parity among those who run office. These data demonstrate that we are still far from this goal, but that – at least at the congressional level – this cycle represents some progress.
2. The partisan gap among women candidates is smaller in 2020 than 2018, but Democratic women are still better represented among women and within their own party.
Partisan differences were stark in women’s 2018 candidacies, with Democratic women responsible for nearly all of the gains in women’s candidacies, nominations, and officeholder gains. With Republican women already breaking their previous record for U.S. House candidacies in 2020, paying close attention to the partisan gap among women – in both raw numbers and proportions of their party’s candidates – provides us a clearer sense of how evenly progress for women candidates is distributed and whether or not that has changed over time.
In the 12 early June primaries, women are about 34.5% of all Democratic and 21.5% of all Republicans congressional and statewide executive candidates. This largely mirrors the representation of women among all Democratic (36.6%) and all Republican (20.9%) candidates in states where filing deadlines have already passed in the 2020 cycle. While Democratic women are better represented among their party’s contenders, Republican women have gained slightly more ground since 2018 within their party’s candidate pool. At this point in 2020, Republican women are up 4.7 percentage points from 2018 in their representation among all Republican congressional and statewide executive candidates, while Democratic women are up by 3.4 percentage points. The gains are larger in U.S. House contests, where Republican women were just 13.7% of Republican candidates in 2018 and represent 21.5% of U.S. House candidates filed as of this week; Democratic women were 32.5% of their party’s House candidates in 2018 and are up to 37.6% thus far in 2020.
Both Democratic and Republican women represent a smaller proportion of their party’s candidates for statewide executive offices in 2020 than they did in 2018, but it is important to be especially cautious about comparing these two years due to the much smaller number of statewide executive offices on the ballot in 2020.
There is one more important caveat to evaluating party differences and trends in the percentage of candidates who are women. In 2020, more women than ever are running as Democratic incumbents, while Republican women are more likely to be running as challengers to incumbents. For Democratic women, that means that even the same percentage of candidates as 2018 might yield even better outcomes due to the incumbency advantage. For Republican women, representing a greater percentage of Republican candidates will matter most if they are running in districts and for offices with the greatest possibility of party gains.
3. Increasing gender parity among officeholders means not only ensuring that more women run, but that women candidates run in contests and contexts in which they can find electoral success. The dominance of men among incumbents means that women are still especially reliant on open and competitive contests to make electoral gains.
Women are just 20% of incumbent candidates for the U.S. House on June 2nd and June 9th primary ballots. And while the incumbency advantage is real, women are over-represented among vulnerable incumbents in these contests – and likely across the 2020 cycle – because of their success in the most competitive districts just two years ago. Democratic women were responsible for flipping the majority of House seats from Republican to Democrat in 2018; today, they are about half (7 of 15) Democratic incumbents running for re-election to the House in districts Cook Political Report rates as toss-ups.
Two of those women – Iowa’s first women Representatives Cindy Axne (D, IA-03) and Abby Finkenauer (D, IA-01) – will be on the ballot on June 2nd. While these women are likely to win their party’s nomination next week, they are expected to face competitive conditions come November; incumbent Representatives Susan Wild (D, PA-07) and Susie Lee (D, NV-03) are also new Democratic women members on upcoming ballots that are running in vulnerable districts this year. Increasing women’s representation in 2021 means holding on to gains women made in the 2018 election.
Republican women are a smaller share of incumbents overall and within their party. Of the just 13 Republican women who currently serve in the House, 11 are running for re-election in 2020. The two incumbent representatives not running for re-election are Susan Brooks (R, IN-05) and Representative Martha Roby (R, AL-02). While their numbers are small, the remaining Republican women House incumbents are favored to win re-election, including the only freshman Republican woman in the 116th Congress – Carol Miller (R, WV-03) – who is on the ballot on June 9th.
Non-incumbent women – women running as challengers or for open seats – make up the large majority of women candidates for the U.S. House this year. And more than 50% of non-incumbent women candidates who are not challenging members of their own party in the primary are running for nominations in districts where the opposing party is strongly favored to win in November. This signals caution about not assuming more women candidates necessarily yields more women officeholders.
Of 73 House districts on ballots over the next two weeks, women have the potential for gains – if they make it through the primary – in seven districts where women are non-incumbent candidates and current race ratings favor their party. These potentially opportune districts include IN-01, IN-05, GA-09, GA-14, MT-AL, NM-03, PA-07.
- Indiana’s 1st congressional district (June 2nd): Four Democratic primary candidates in this open-seat district that is currently rated as “Solid Democrat” by Cook Political Report are women. If one of the two Latina Democrats running for this seat wins the nomination and election in November, she would be the first Latina to represent Indiana in Congress. Among the seven Republican primary candidates, none are women.
- Indiana’s 5th congressional district (June 2nd): Women are six (3D, 3R) of 20 (5D, 15R) candidates in this open-seat contest that Cook Political Report rates as “Lean Republican.”
- Georgia’s 9th congressional district (June 9th): Women are three (1D, 2R) of 12 (3D, 9R) candidates in this open-seat contest that Cook Political Report rates as “Solid Republican.”
- Georgia’s 14th congressional district (June 9th): Cook Political Report rates this open-seat contest as “Solid Republican” in which Marjorie Greene (R) is the only woman of nine Republican candidates.
- Montana’s at-large congressional district (June 2nd): Kathleen Williams, who is one of two candidates for the Democratic nomination, was the Democratic nominee for this seat in 2018. She lost the general election to Greg Gianforte (R), who is not running for re-election, by 4 points. Debra Lamm, who is one of six candidates for the Republican nomination, is a former member of the Montana House and Senate. Cook Political Report rates this seat as “Likely Republican.”
- New Mexico’s 3rd congressional district (June 2nd): Women are five (3D, 2R) of ten (7D, 3R) candidates in this open-seat contest that Cook Political Report rates as “Solid Democratic.” If a woman wins this seat and incumbent women in NM-01 and NM-02 hold their seats, New Mexico would have an all-woman House delegation. Because four of five women candidates are women of color, the New Mexico House delegation could also be all-women of color in 2021.
- Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district (June 2nd): Lisa Scheller (R) is one of two Republicans seeking to challenge incumbent Representative Susan Wild (D) in a contest that Cook Political Report currently rates as “Lean Democratic.”
In another seven districts that Cook Political Report currently rates as toss-ups, women are running as either incumbents (GA-06, IA-01, IA-03, NM-02), challengers (GA-06, IA-01, NM-02, SC-01), both (GA-06, IA-01, NM-02), or for open seats (GA-07, IA-02).
- Georgia’s 6th congressional district (June 9th): Incumbent Representative Lucy McBath (D) could face former Representative Karen Handel in a rematch of their 2018 contest, which McBath won by 1%.
- Georgia’s 7th congressional district (June 9th): Among the women running for this open seat is Carolyn Bourdeaux, who was the Democratic nominee in 2018, losing to now-Representative Rob Woodall (R) by just over 300 votes (0.2%). This race is currently rated as a toss-up by Cook Political Report.
- Iowa’s 1st congressional district (June 2nd): Incumbent Representative Abby Finkenauer (D) won her seat for the first time in 2018 by five points. Ashley Hinson is one of two Republicans running to challenge Finkenauer in November.
- Iowa’s 2nd congressional district (June 2nd): Rita Hart is the only Democratic candidate in this open-seat race. Hart ran and lost as a candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Iowa in 2018 and is running again in 2020 for the U.S. House. Marianette Miller-Meeks is one of five candidates vying for the Republican nomination.
- Iowa’s 3rd congressional district (June 2nd): Incumbent Representative Cindy Axne (D) won her seat for the first time in 2018 by two points. There are no Republican women vying for this seat.
- New Mexico’s 2nd congressional district (June 2nd): Incumbent Representative Xochitl Torres-Small defeated Yvette Herrell (R) in 2018 by just under 2 points. Herrell is one of two Republican women running to challenge Torres-Small this year.
- South Carolina’s 1st congressional district (June 9th): Two women are running for the Republican nomination in this district, including State Representative Nancy Mace who made national news in 2019 when she spoke openly on the House floor about being raped at age 16 to oppose an abortion bill that included no exception for rape. Mace was also among the first women cadets at The Citadel.
There are eight U.S. Senate contests being held this year in the 12 states holding primaries on June 2nd and June 9th. Women are candidates in six of eight of those Senate contests, including incumbent Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), who are favored to win re-election this fall. Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) will also compete in a special Senate election in November. Six Democratic women are running in two primary contests – in Georgia and Iowa – in early June to challenge incumbents in contests deemed competitive by Cook Political Report.
There are four gubernatorial primaries in being held in the next two weeks in Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia. Republican incumbent men are favored to win re-election in all but one of those contests; Montana’s open-seat race is currently rated as a toss-up and Whitney Williams is one of two candidates running for the Democratic nomination.
CAWP will continue to track women's candidacies throughout the 2020 cycle, not only keeping track of how many women are running for office, but also where they are running and how well represented they are among all candidates on primary and general election ballots. In monitoring gender trends, we will continue to provide nuanced analyses not only by party and levels of office, but also with an eye to race type and competitiveness to ensure that any predictions for women’s gains in representation come 2021 are not over-stated. As we cautioned in the 2018 cycle, the work to achieve gender parity in American politics will not be done in any single election cycle. The 2020 election will offer some important opportunities for women to break new barriers and increase representation, including opportunities in states holding primaries in the next two weeks, but the work to achieve gender parity among candidates and officeholders will continue beyond this year.
Final votes were counted yesterday in Oregon’s congressional primary. 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:
- Both incumbent women running in Oregon’s congressional and statewide executive primaries – U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D, OR-01) and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) – will be on the ballot this fall and are favored to win re-election.
- Republican women won nominations for the U.S. Senate and 2 of 5 U.S. House districts in Oregon. They will challenge incumbents who are favored to win re-election in each of these contests in the fall.
- In the open seat contest for Secretary of State, current State Senator Kim Thatcher secured the Republican nomination and current State Senator Shemia Fagan is competing in a Democratic primary that remains too close to call. Current Secretary of State Bev Clarno (R) is not running for re-election.
The last, and only, woman to serve in the U.S. Senate from Oregon was Maurine Brown Neuberger (D), who held office from 1960 to 1967. This year, Jo Rae Perkins (R) won the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Senator Jeff Merkley (D) – who was unopposed in the Democratic primary – in a contest currently rated as "Solid Democratic" by Cook Political Report. Perkins was the only woman running in the four-person Republican primary. If elected, she would be the first Republican woman senator from Oregon and the first woman senator in more than 5 decades.
Women candidates secured 4 of 10 (40%) major-party nominations for U.S. House seats decided in Oregon on May 19th. Women are 2 of 5 (40%) Democratic nominees and 2 of 5 (40%) Republican nominees for the U.S. House in Oregon. 5 (3D, 2R) women candidates were unsuccessful in their primary bids for the U.S. House.
- Incumbent Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D) – who is currently the only woman in Oregon’s five-member delegation to the U.S. House – defeated two challengers, both women, in the Democratic primary. She is strongly favored to win re-election this fall.
- Alex Spenser (D) won the Democratic nomination in Oregon’s 2nd congressional district, home to the only open seat contest for the U.S. House in Oregon this year. She will run in a general election contest that strongly favors the Republican nominee according to Cook Political Report’s current ratings.
Both Republican women nominees will challenge Democratic incumbents this fall in races currently rated as "Solid Democratic" by Cook Political Report.
- Joanna Harbour (R) will challenge incumbent Representative Earl Blumenaeur (D) in Oregon’s 3rd congressional district.
- Amy Courser (R) will challenge incumbent Representative Kurt Schrader (D) in Oregon’s 5th congressional district.
Amy Courser (R, OR-05) identifies as multi-racial, both Native American and White. Oregon has never sent a woman of color to Congress.
Statewide Elected Executive Office
Women are currently 4 (2D, 1R, 1NP) of 5 statewide elected executive officials in Oregon. Just 3 of those offices – Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Treasurer – are up for election in 2020.
- Incumbent Secretary of State Bev Clarno (R) did not run for re-election. She was appointed by Governor Kate Brown in 2019 upon the condition that she would not run for a full term.
This year, women are 2 of 5 (40%) major-party nominees already selected for statewide elected executive offices in Oregon, including 1 of 2 (50%) Democrats and 1 of 3 (33.3%) Republicans. 1 (1D) woman candidates was unsuccessful in her primary bid for statewide elected executive office and another - State Senator Shemia Fagan (D) - remains in the Democratic primary race for Secretary of State, which is too close to call.
- Incumbent Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) was uncontested in the Democratic primary and will compete for re-election this fall. She has served since 2012.
- Kim Thatcher (R), who is currently a state senator, won the Republican nomination for Secretary of State. State Senator Shemia Fagan is competing in the Democratic primary that remains too close to call. If Fagan is victorious, a woman will be all but assured to be elected Secretary of State.
Both women major-party nominees for the statewide elected executive offices in Oregon, as well as Senator Fagan, are White women. Just 1 (1NP) woman of color – Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo (2003-2012) – has ever served in statewide elected executive office in Oregon.
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.
Final votes were counted yesterday in Nebraska’s congressional primary. 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:
- Women are 2 of 3 Democratic nominees for the U.S. House from Nebraska, each challenging incumbent Republican men.
- In Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district, Democratic nominee Kara Eastman will challenge incumbent Republican Representative Don Bacon in a rematch of their 2018 general election contest. Eastman lost her bid against Bacon by just 2 points in 2018 and this year’s contest is currently rated as Lean Republican by Cook Political Report. If Eastman defeats Bacon in November, she will be the first Democratic woman in Congress from Nebraska and the first woman to represent Nebraska in the U.S. House since 1990.
Women are currently 1 (1R) of 5 (20%) members of the Nebraska delegation to the U.S. Congress. Incumbent Senator Deb Fischer (R) is not up for re-election this year.
2 (2D) women were defeated in their primary bids for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate to challenge incumbent Senator Ben Sasse (R).
No women currently serve in Nebraska’s three-member delegation to the U.S. House, and no woman has represented Nebraska in the U.S. House since 1990.
Women candidates secured 2 of 6 (33.3%) major-party nominations for U.S. House seats decided in Nebraska on May 12th. Women are 2 of 3 (66.6%) Democratic nominees for U.S. House and 0 of 3 (0%) Republican nominees for the U.S. House in Nebraska. All Republican nominees are male incumbents.
- Kara Eastman (D) will challenge incumbent Representative Don Bacon (R) in Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district. Eastman lost her bid against Bacon by just 2 points in 2018. This general election contest is currently rated as Lean Republican by Cook Political Report. If Eastman defeats Bacon in November, she will be the first Democratic woman in Congress from Nebraska and the first woman to represent Nebraska in the U.S. House since 1990. Learn more about women running again in 2020 after a 2018 loss at our Rebound Candidates page.
- Kate Bolz (D) will challenge incumbent Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R) in Nebraska’s 1st congressional district. Fortenberry, who defeated Democrat Jessica McClure by 20 points in 2018, is strongly favored to win re-election.
- There are no open U.S. House seats in Nebraska in this year’s election.
Both (2D) women nominees for the U.S. House from Nebraska are White women. Nebraska has never sent a woman of color to Congress nor elected a woman of color to any statewide office (U.S. Senate or statewide executive).
Special elections for U.S. House seats were also held yesterday California's 25th congressional district and Wisconsin's 7th congressional district. Tricia Zunker (D) was defeated in Wisconsin and the contest between Christy Smith (D) and Mike Garcia (R) in California is still too close to call. 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.
With Joe Biden as the presumptive Democratic nominee, there has been speculation about who he will choose to be his running mate. Biden has pledged that his vice-presidential pick will be a woman stating, “There are a number of women who qualified to be president tomorrow. I would pick a woman to be my vice president.” After making this commitment in mid-March, journalists and political pundits wasted no time generating lists of qualified women who Joe Biden could potentially choose to be his running mate.
Despite pundits and party elites placing an outsized level of importance on the VP pick, rarely has a vice presidential running mate had more than a trivial impact on an election outcome. However, we arguably face the most important and consequential presidential election in modern history. In the context of global pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of Americans, devastated the economy, left millions of Americans unemployed, and pushed our healthcare system to the brink, Biden’s pick for VP choice may be perceived as far more meaningful than in past elections. Furthermore, given Biden’s age, there is a distinct possibility that whoever he chooses will be running a presidential race in 2024.
So much of the perceived strategy of Biden’s choice hinges on what we think is more crucial to Biden’s success- “persuasion targets” verses “turnout targets.” Is the goal to increase turnout among younger voters and voters of color? Given the difference in turnout between 2012 and 2016 among black voters and the expanding Latino electorate in key states, this is a prudent goal. One of the most defining divides in the Democratic primary was the age difference in support for Biden, with voters under 45 more likely to have supported Bernie Sanders and voters over 45 more likely to support Biden. Furthermore, young voters (who are also more likely to be voters of color) simply turn out to vote at much lower levels. Polling shows that Biden has a huge lead over Trump with young voters, but this issue will inevitably be one of turnout.
But is the more important goal to target persuadable voters? These voters would include white voters in the Midwest (many who voted for Trump in 2016), white suburbanites, moderate and conservative voters, as well as Independents. Despite changing demographics in the U.S., white men still make up about one-third of the electorate. In 2018, 41% of white men voted for Democrats and undoubtedly helped contribute to their success. Polling shows that the split among white voters by college education is essentially the same as it was in 2016; whites without a college degree support Trump over Biden by about 30 points. However, the same polling also highlights the fact that Biden has not significantly increased support among whites with a college degree.
Speculation about the veepstakes is likely to pick up even more momentum as former Vice President Biden recently announced a panel of advisors to aid him in the selection of a running mate. Although there are many think pieces devoted to discussing who would be the smartest strategic pick for Biden, most fail to substantively discuss or provide data on what kind of voters each potential VP nominee might attract. Using relevant data from recent surveys, elections, and each potential VP’s past successes, I evaluate the types of voters each VP pick might be able to mobilize and how much of a boon that potential mobilization would be to the Biden campaign.
1. Stacey Abrams
Stacey Abrams rose to national prominence when she ran as the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor in 2018. While some of the other potential running mates under consideration have remained coy about any vice-presidential ambitions, Abrams has been open about her desire to serve as Biden’s VP. She has noted her history of fighting to protect the right to vote, her experience serving as her party’s minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, and has argued that it would be a mistake for Joe Biden not to pick a black woman like herself. Abrams told Jake Tapper on CNN, “As a young black woman, growing up in Mississippi, I learned that if you don't raise your hand, people won't see you, and they won't give you attention.”
Given Abrams newcomer status to national politics, there are limited data points to draw from that speak to the types of voters she might bring into the fold. But her past performances offer some insights. Abrams lost her gubernatorial bid to then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp by a thin margin. Kemp was overseeing the election that he competed in and enforced some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country, resulting in allegations of voter suppression. Despite this, more black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Latino voters turned out in Georgia’s 2018 midterm election than in the 2016 presidential election. Georgia was the only state where midterm turnout was greater than presidential turnout among voters of color. This speaks to Abrams’ ability to mobilize voters of color who might otherwise stay home on Election Day. Additionally, Abrams achieved this without losing the support for white voters. She won a larger share of the white vote than President Barack Obama. In the Data for Progress poll, 17% of black voters chose Abrams as their preferred VP nominee (second only to Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren at 22%). Furthermore, a plurality (21%) of black voters felt that Abrams would be the most effective in implementing policies as VP.
2. Senator Tammy Baldwin
Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin has largely flown under the radar in the veepstakes discussion and has been left out of most national polling. Wisconsin is emerging as one of the most crucial (if not the most crucial) battleground state in the 2020 election. Baldwin has been in the Senate since 2013 and is the first openly LGBT member of the Senate. Although she lacks name recognition nationally, Senator Baldwin won her 2018 race by double digits. This is no small feat in a purple state like Wisconsin where Democrat Tony Evers beat Scott Walker in the 2018 gubernatorial race by a razor thin margin (slightly over 1%). In fact, about 8% of voters split their ticket and supported both Walker and Baldwin. Exit polls show that 10% of Republicans and 59% of Independents or non-affiliated voters voted for Baldwin. This fact speaks to Baldwin’s ability to put together a coalition that includes both progressives, Independents, and even some Trump supports. Another potential strength is her progressive bona fides. She is one of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate. This could mobilize progressives who feel lukewarm about Biden.
3. Senator Tammy Duckworth
Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth is another woman on this list who has made history. She won her 2016 election and became the second Asian American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, the first woman with a disability to be elected to Congress, and the first Senator to give birth while in office. Duckworth is a combat veteran and was the first female double amputee from the Iraq War (her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by Iraqi insurgents). She served in the house for four years before running for the Senate. Although Duckworth has not been included in many national polls, YouGov polling indicates that she is slightly more popular among millennials and men. In her 2016 Senate victory, she won only 17 out of Illinois’ 102 counties. Duckworth won by huge margins in terms of total votes in urban counties which secured her victory. According to CNN exit polls from 2016, she did particularly well among non-white voters, and notably, voters without a college degree as well as moderates and Independents.
Senator Duckworth previously served as the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and was appointed by President Barack Obama to be the Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She has a long history of advocating for vets. Although the relationship between electoral victory and candidate military experience is nuanced, researchers have found that people use candidates’ military service to make inferences about defense competence and interventionism that can lead to higher support among some groups of voters. Other work has found that voters overwhelming perceive candidates with military experience to be more competent in handling national security and defense issues. It’s difficult to extrapolate what this might mean in terms of any potential benefit to the Biden campaign. However, Duckworth’s distinct lived experience as a veteran, Asian-American woman, a person with a physical disability, and a new mother, might appeal to voters seeking representation and recognition in the next administration.
4. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham
Another governor that has garnered attention as a potential veep choice is New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Lujan Grisham became the first Latina Democratic woman governor in 2019, after serving three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Despite holding these posts, Lujan Grisham’s national profile remains relatively low, reducing the amount of data from which to draw in predicting her influence on a presidential ticket. Elected from both a majority-Latino district and state and as the former head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Lujan Grisham would bring strong ties to the Latino community. This might help a Biden presidential ticket with mobilizing Latino voters. In the presidential primary, Sanders did far better with Latino voters than Biden. A recent survey from Latino Decisions shows support for Biden at 59% among Latinos, compared to just two months ago when it was at 67%. According to New York Times, Latinos are expected to be the largest nonwhite ethnic voting bloc this fall. Latino support in key swing states like Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania could be decisive for Biden.
It’s also worth noting, given the current public health crisis, that Governor Lujan Grisham began her career as a health commissioner in Bernalillo County and ultimately was appointed as New Mexico’s Secretary of Health. Lujan Grisham has also been garnering high approval ratings (62%) for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
5. Senator Kamala Harris
Out of all the potential VP nominees, the one that has perhaps been cited the most as a likely pick is Senator Kamala Harris. In a March 2020 YouGov poll, 18% of Democratic primary voters selected Kamala Harris as their preferred choice for Biden’s running mate (second only to Warren). In the Harvard CAPS/Harris poll, Harris was in the middle of pack with 10% of respondents choosing her as their preferred VP running mate. Her support, also in the Harvard poll, remains relatively stable across age groups, although older voters preferred her slightly more than younger voters. There was also a notable gap in support for Harris across racial lines with 16% of black voters selecting her verses 9% of white voters. However, it’s unclear how much of a benefit this is to the Biden coalition given his already deeply entrenched support in the black community. It’s also not a given that Kamala Harris, a black woman, would mobilize black voters. During the presidential race, Harris, as well as the only other black candidate in the race, Cory Booker, were unable to make inroads in South Carolina, a state where African Americans are about a third of the population and an even larger proportion of Democratic voters. One promising data point for Harris is that, in the March YouGov poll, she garnered the highest support among Hispanic voters (26%) in VP selection. The Latino vote will be an essential voting bloc in 2020.
Based on these data points, it’s clear that while Democratic primary voters have generally warm feelings towards Kamala Harris, but her support among other groups suggests that she might have trouble generating enthusiasm outside of the existing Biden coalition.
6. Senator Amy Klobuchar
Another potential VP pick is Senator Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar has 63% favorability among Democratic primary voters according to the latest YouGov poll. The moderate Minnesota senator displays major strength among older voters, particularly those 65 and older. In the Harvard CAPS/Harris poll, Klobuchar was the preferred VP choice for 19% of respondents 65 and older (the most popular choice among that age group) and 12% of voters 50-64 compared to only 3% of voters 18-34 and 5% of voters 35-49. These numbers indicate that Senator Klobuchar will better mobilize older voters. In the YouGov poll, she is the second highest in support from Democratic primary voters age 65+. However, it’s important to note that generally, these voters are already mobilized. We know that older people go to the polls at significantly larger numbers than younger people. According to CNN exit polls during the midterm election, 56% of voters were over age 50 and 26% were 65 or over. By comparison, only 13% of voters were under the age of 30 and this was considered a high turnout for young voters.
Klobuchar clearly appeals to older voters but it’s unclear that would be a significant benefit to the Biden coalition. It is worth noting that in the Harvard poll, Klobuchar was tied with Sanders as the preferred candidate of voters who voted for Trump in 2016, suggesting she could pick off some Trump voters. During the presidential primary, where Klobuchar hit a stumbling block was with voters of color. She out-performed expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire (overwhelmingly white states), but failed to mobilize voters of color, particularly black voters, in Nevada and South Carolina, effectively ending her presidential bid.
7. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto made history when she became the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016. She served as the Attorney General of Nevada from 2007 to 2015 but has not yet achieved much of a national profile. Cortez Masto was included on the most recent Data for Progress poll where she garnered only 1% of support from Democratic voters, most likely a result of her low name ID. As one of the very few Latina women in Congress and as a statewide representative of a state where Latinos are 29% of the population, Cortez Masto has the potential to and experience in mobilizing Latino voters. Her knowledge of and popularity in a swing state like Nevada is also worth weighing in considering her benefit to a presidential ticket.
8. Senator Elizabeth Warren
It was only a month and a half ago that Senator Elizabeth Warren, once a front-runner, dropped out of the presidential race. A little over a week ago she endorsed Joe Biden and when asked by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC how she would respond if Biden asked her to serve as vice president, Warren responded “Yes.”
Warren has been the leading woman candidate among Democrats in two recent polls. In an April 2020 Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll, 13% of all respondents chose Warren as their preferred VP pick. This is second only to the 20% of respondents who chose Senator Bernie Sanders. When Data for Progress listed only women contenders in another April 2020 survey, 31% of Democratic respondents chose Warren, with Senator Kamala Harris coming in second with 18% of support. Notably, 42% of Democrats identified Warren as the potential vice presidential candidate most ready to be president. In a recent YouGov poll, Elizabeth Warren had the highest favorability (77%) among Democratic primary voters. Other YouGov polling suggests similarly positive feelings for Warren. A plurality of Democratic primary voters in a March 2020 poll said that Biden should select Warren as his VP.
These data points highlight that the Democratic base generally has warm feelings towards Warren. However, conventional wisdom during and after her presidential bid was that the Massachusetts senator does better with women, more educated voters, and more liberal voters. The extant data seems to bear this out. Out of the five women candidates who were included as response options in the Harvard CAPS/Harris poll, the gender gap in support was the largest for Elizabeth Warren with 15% of women selecting Warren as their preferred pick compared to 11% of men in the survey. Similarly, YouGov polling from March indicates that among Democratic primary voters, 29% of women and 25% of men think that Elizabeth Warren should be selected as the nominee for vice-president. According to NBC exit polls, this gender gap was consistent in almost every presidential primary contest as well. In the presidential primary, Warren lost in her home state and struggled to win support among white men without college degrees (although Warren did do better with college-educated white men than with working class white women underscoring the complicated gender dynamics at play). Another weak spot for Warren is with Independent voters. Exit polls from her 2012 campaign for the U.S. Senate showed that her that her opponent, Scott Brown, did better with Independent voters, particularly men. This weak spot played out in the 2020 presidential primary in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, and several other Super Tuesday states.
9. Governor Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been floated as another potential running mate for Joe Biden, particularly as she rose to national consciousness because of her response to the Covid-19 pandemic and her outspoken criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis. Whitmer has a long and successful electoral history, having served three terms in the Michigan House of Representatives and two terms in the Michigan Senate before her gubernatorial run in 2018. Given Michigan’s status as a crucial battleground state and the fact that Trump won Michigan in 2016 by the narrowest margin in the history of the state, it makes sense that Governor Whitmer is on the short list.
Whitmer is rated favorably by 47% of Democratic primary voters, although it’s important to note that over 40% were unfamiliar with her. She is also popular in her state. Despite criticism from some Republicans over her aggressive response to Covid-19 and protests over the stay-at-home orders, Whitmer’s approval rating is 60% in Michigan (15 points higher than Trump’s approval rating in the state). With limited data, it’s difficult to discern what types of voters might be energized by Whitmer as a VP pick. In the Data for Progress poll, only 3% of Democratic voters chose Whitmer as their VP choice, which is likely a product of low name ID. However, her win in 2018 demonstrated her ability to put together a diverse coalition of black voters, suburban women, blue collar workers, and even voters in conservative parts of the state.
What does it all mean?
When considering the potential VP nominees (although this list is not exhaustive), the various data points we can draw from, the voter bases that Biden needs to reach, the idiosyncrasies of this particular election environment, and the dubiousness of the importance of the VP pick, it’s difficult to extract any conclusions about who is the best strategic choice for Joe Biden. What does seem instinctively true is the heightened importance of this choice in this particular moment and the long list of highly qualified women who would bring myriad benefits to the presidential ticket.
Furthermore, given the recent allegations of sexual assault against Joe Biden, all of the women on this list will have to thread the needle between supporting Biden without being perceived as being dismissive of the allegations. As Rebecca Traister outlined in her article in The Cut, any woman who accepts Biden’s invitation to be his running mate will become ensnared in this controversy.
For both Biden and the potential VP nominee, there will be trade-offs. Ultimately, it’s less about who Biden chooses and more about the voters she will bring along.
 It’s worth noting a few caveats regarding the Harvard CAPS/Harris poll. The summary data available for this poll includes preference for each candidate across various demographic groups. Survey respondents including Republican, Democratic, and third-party voters and we were unable to restrict our analysis to only Democratic voters.
Final votes were counted yesterday in Ohio’s postponed congressional primary. 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:
- Women are 73.3% of Democratic nominees for the U.S. House from Ohio, but only incumbents are favored to win. Just 1 non-incumbent nominee – Kate Schroder (D) – is running in a contest currently deemed competitive, though the district is rated as leaning Republican. The path toward electing new women to the House from Ohio will be difficult.
- Nearly 40% of women U.S. House nominees in Ohio are Black women, including 2 incumbents who are 2 of 22 Black women in the House.
- 3 (2D, 1R) women who ran and lost U.S. House races in 2018 are running again this year and will be on the ballot this fall. Learn more about 2020’s rebound candidates here.
Women are currently 3 (3D) of 18 (16.7%) members of the Ohio delegation to the U.S. Congress. No woman has ever served in the U.S. Senate from Ohio, and that will not change after the 2020 election, as there is no U.S. Senate contest in the state.
Women are currently 3 (3D) of 16 (18.8%) members of the Ohio delegation to the U.S. House. Representative Marcy Kaptur (D, OH-9) is the longest-serving congresswoman currently in Congress. Representatives Joyce Beatty (D, OH-3) and Marcia Fudge (D, OH-11) are 2 of 22 (9.1%) Black women serving in the U.S. House.
Women candidates secured 13 of 31 (41.9%) major-party nominations for U.S. House seats decided in Ohio on April 28th. Women are 11 of 15 (73.3%) Democratic nominees for U.S. House and 2 of 16 (12.5%) Republican nominees for the U.S. House in Ohio.
All 3 (3D) incumbent women representatives – Joyce Beatty (D, OH-3), Marcy Kaptur (D, OH-9), and Marcia Fudge (D, OH-11) – were successful in securing Democratic nominations for re-election in their congressional districts. They are each strongly favored to be re-elected this fall.
- In the 3rd congressional district, Representative Beatty defeated another woman, Morgan Harper, in the Democratic primary. Harper had been endorsed by Justice Democrats.
- In the 11th congressional district, Representative Fudge will face another woman, Republican nominee Laverne Gore, in November.
10 (8D, 2R) women nominees will challenge incumbents in November.
- Among them, only 1 (1D) is running in a district currently deemed competitive by Cook Political Report; Kate Schroder (D) will challenge Representative Steve Chabot (R) in Ohio’s 1st congressional district, which Cook currently rates as leaning Republican.
- 9 (7D, 2R) will run in districts where those incumbents are favored to win according to Cook Political Report: Jaime Castle (D, OH-2), Shannon Freshour (D, OH-4), Shawna Roberts (D, OH-6), Vanessa Enoch (D, OH-8), Desiree Tims (D, OH-10), Laverne Gore (R, OH-11), Alaina Shearer (D, OH-12), Christina Hagan (D, OH-13), and Hillary O’Connor Mueri (D, OH-14).
- 3 (2D, 1R) of these nominees also ran for the U.S. House in 2018. Both Shawna Roberts (D, OH-6) and Vanessa Enoch (D, OH-8) were Democratic nominees in the same districts in the 2018 election. Christina Hagan (R, OH-13) ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in Ohio’s 16th congressional district in 2018.
- There are no open U.S. House seats in Ohio in this year’s election.
5 (4D, 1R) of 13 (38.5%) women nominees for the U.S. House from Ohio are Black women, including 2 (2D) incumbent representatives – Joyce Beatty (D, OH-3) and Marcia Fudge (D, OH-11) – and 3 (2D, 1R) women challengers: Vanessa Enoch (D, OH-8), Desiree Times (D, OH-10), and Laverne Gore (R, OH-11). Fudge and Gore will compete against each other in Ohio’s 11th congressional district, where Fudge is favored to win re-election. No other women of color are major party nominees in Ohio’s U.S. House contests.
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.
The current COVID-19 crisis has already offered important reminders about how to define and address problems across sectors – health, economic, and political. Here is a simple one: denominators matter. For weeks now, President Trump has touted the total number of coronavirus tests completed in the U.S. as surpassing the rest of the world, implying our country’s superior performance in combatting COVID-19. But this raw number is misleading because the vast size of the U.S. population means that more tests are a given, not a sign of success. The denominator – population size – matters in determining whether or not the U.S. rate of testing is on par with the rest of the world. It is not. As of this week, the U.S. continues to fall behind other countries for tests conducted per million people. Using raw numbers not only yields a mischaracterization of the data, but also risks underestimating the policy – and public health – problem that these data reveal.
At the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), we are used to reminding members of the media and public that denominators matter in assessing women’s political progress. For example, when the number of women in the U.S. House of Representatives reached 100 for the first time, many celebrated this as a key milestone for gender equality. But 100 women in the House did not represent equality. Women at the time were 100 of 435 House members, just 23% of all officeholders. It would take more than a doubling of that number to reach gender parity in officeholding.
Denominators are also important in assessing women’s political progress as candidates for political office. Research shows that – generally – when women run for office, they win at comparable rates to men in comparable contests (see our latest report, however, for more on gender differences in the work required to yield equitable outcomes). That means that one route to increasing the number of women in office is increasing the number of women who run for office.
The 2018 election provided some evidence that increasing the percentage of women in the candidate pool can help to ensure more women are elected. For example, while women were just 17.8% of all candidates on U.S. House ballots in 2016, that number jumped to 24.2% in 2018. Likewise, upon the start of the subsequent congresses, women were 19% of House members in 2017 and 23.4% in 2019.
Many more factors contribute to women’s gains, including electoral contexts that favor their party and/or create opportunities in the form of open or competitive seats. But still, increasing women’s presence in the candidate pools is important in taking advantage of especially opportune moments. This was true for Democratic women running in 2018, a year that proved especially successful for Democrats in U.S. House contests. From 2016 to 2018, the percentage of women among all Democratic House candidates increased from about one-quarter to one-third, and Democratic women made record gains in officeholding as a result. The number of Republican women in the House went down as a result of the 2018 election, evidencing in part the difficult environment for all Republicans. But Republican women were also an especially small part of the GOP candidate pool; in 2018, 13.7% of GOP candidates were women, up from 11.5% in 2016.
We are tracking the percentage of candidates who are women in 2020 to determine whether or not women will again increase their presence on U.S. House ballots nationwide. With filed candidates certified in just about 70% of U.S. House districts (as of April 20, 2020), women are: 28.5% of all U.S. House candidates, 36.7% of all Democratic U.S. House candidates, and 21.1% of all Republican U.S. House candidates on primary ballots this year. Each of these numbers is up from 2018 – with the jump largest for Republican women, but the representation of women candidates is still far from parity with men.
This year, for the first time, we are also tracking women as a percentage of state legislative candidates nationwide. Those data are very preliminary, but they reveal similar patterns. In the first 5 states to hold state legislative primaries (Arkansas, California, Illinois, North Carolina, and Texas), women were: 32.5% of all state legislative candidates, 43.5% of all Democratic state legislative candidates, and 19.4% of all Republican state legislative candidates on the ballot. These data are consistent with the slightly higher levels of representation for women at the state legislative level, as well as the partisan disparities that persist among women state legislative officeholders.
We are also analyzing the percentage of nominees who are women – those candidates making it through their primary elections. Especially due to COVID-related primary delays, these numbers are still small. Just under 30% of U.S. House nominees have been selected in the 2020 cycle. Of them, women are: 33.6% of all U.S. House nominees, 44.5% of all Democratic U.S. House nominees, and 20.9% of all Republican U.S. House nominees. Each of these percentages is up from women’s representation among nominees in 2018 House elections (inclusive of all nominees following the end of the primaries), with Republican women’s percentage of the nominee pool increasing most from 2018, at least in these early primary states.
A caveat to the rise in both candidacies and nominations for Republican women is that the political environment may not be as friendly to these women in 2020 as it was to Democratic women in 2018. CAWP Research Associate Claire Gothreau took a look at the prospects for Republican women this year in a recent post, noting the particular hurdles they face in running as challengers in Democratic-leaning districts this November. Still, these data show that the rise in Republican women’s House candidacies (a new high) is not only in raw numbers, but also in women’s representation among all Republicans on House ballots in 2020.
Taking the denominators into account in our assessment of women’s political status and progress often results in some cognitive dissonance, and that is true again here. On the one hand, it is important to celebrate the gains in women’s representation in candidate pools and among nominees. But on the other hand, these data reveal that women remain underrepresented at each stage of the electoral process and across parties. That underrepresentation in electoral politics contributes to the persistent gender disparity in officeholding, which has substantive effects on our political institutions and policymaking. Most important is that these data remind us that we have more work to do.
We know that women are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. According the U.S. Census Bureau, women hold 76% of all heath care jobs. More specifically, women are over 85% of registered nurses nationwide, dominating one of the groups battling coronavirus via patient care in hospitals nationwide. Women are also 31 of 50 (62%) of state health officials that are stepping up to lead states through this crisis, as I noted in a post last week.
But we know that the effects of COVID-19 are being felt at a more local level. The virus has hit cities across the United States, with particularly swift rates of infection in some of the nation’s largest urban centers. Here, women are among city executives managing the response. Among the 100 largest (in population) cities in the U.S., 27 had women mayors as of September 2019. More than one-third (10) of those 27 women are women of color, including 7 Black women, 1 Latina, and 2 women who identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander. Of the 1,366 mayors of U.S. cities with populations 30,000 and above, 300, or 22.0%, were women as of September 2019.
Women mayors in all U.S. cities – big or small – are key players in combating COVID-19 in ways that most directly affect our everyday lives. Their leadership, in coordination with health professionals and state and federal political leaders, should not go unnoticed in the fight against coronavirus. There are too many individual women mayors to highlight here, but I have included some examples below of women mayors who are working hard to keep their cities’ citizens safe, as well as how they are doing it.
Seattle, WA: Mayor Jenny Durkan
Mayor Jenny Durkan was elected mayor of Seattle, Washington in November 2017, becoming the first woman to lead the city in nearly a century and the first lesbian to hold the office. Prior to becoming mayor, Durkan served as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington; she was the first openly gay U.S. Attorney in history.
When Seattle become the nation’s first hot spot for the coronavirus in early March, Mayor Durkan swiftly coordinated her response with Washington Governor Jay Inslee. The day after learning about the first cases of COVID-19 in her city, Durkan signed a civil emergency proclamation for Seattle. About 10 days later, she issued a warning to mayors across the country, sharing what she felt they needed to know about the virus in a Washington Post op-ed. Committed to ensuring that her city’s residents maintained access to essential needs like food and shelter, she issued a moratorium on evictions and announced a grocery store voucher program for vulnerable citizens within two weeks of issuing the civil emergency. She also approved a program to provide free child care for essential workers.
By the end of March, the data demonstrated that Seattle’s response to the coronavirus was working. Mayor Durkan again shared what she had learned with other leaders across the country, telling Bloomberg Harvard, “People are scared, confused, and getting mixed messages from the national and local level. I think people will trust their local leaders. You have to be transparent about the seriousness of the situation and how difficult it is – and is going to get – but you also have to do it in a way that does not create panic.” Durkan explained how and why she made key decisions in the fight against COVID-19 in her city and offered suggestions about how other cities, states, and the federal government can coordinate the most effective response. She noted, “I would say you can’t go it alone, but you also can’t assume that you should wait for anyone else to make the decisions.”
San Francisco, CA: Mayor London Breed
Mayor London Breed became San Francisco’s first Black woman mayor in July 2018 (she previously served as Acting Mayor from December 2017 to January 2018). Prior to becoming mayor, Breed served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as a San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Commissioner and a San Francisco Fire Commissioner. She was also Executive Director of the African American Art & Culture Complex in the Western Addition for over a decade.
Mayor Breed’s early and strong response to COVID-19 has been touted as not only key to curbing her city’s rates of coronavirus cases and deaths, but also influential nationwide. A new profile of Breed from The Atlantic explains, “San Francisco and the broader Bay Area have emerged as a national model for how early and aggressive action can prevent the explosive rise in cases that has overwhelmed hospitals in New York, where leaders were slower to respond.” Under Breed’s leadership, San Francisco became the first major city in the U.S. to activate their emergency operations center in late January, preparing for a possible outbreak. In early March, after just 2 cases were confirmed in the city, the mayor and her team issued “aggressive recommendations” to limit social gatherings and cancel all non-essential events like concerts and sporting events. An official ban on non-essential events of 100 or more people was imposed on March 13, and while the city had fewer than 50 confirmed cases of coronavirus at the time, the mayor imposed a citywide shelter-in-place order starting on March 17. San Francisco became the first major city to shelter in place in response to COVID-19, with the state of California following suit just two days later.
In addition to taking early action, Mayor Breed has been attentive to the distinct needs of the city’s homeless and first responders. The city’s Department of Children, Youth, and their Families is providing emergency child and youth care to San Francisco’s first responders, healthcare workers, and other essential city employees. In response to an outbreak in one of the city’s shelters, Breed has emphasized the city’s continued efforts to prevent spread in sites of congregate living. In her recent interview with The Atlantic, Breed cautioned, “San Franciscans are complying and people have been incredible with following this [shelter-in-place] order. But on another note, there are a lot of folks who are not. And I am not comfortable letting up.”
Chicago, IL: Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Mayor Lori Lightfoot was elected mayor of Chicago in May 2019, becoming the city’s first Black woman and first openly gay mayor. Prior to becoming mayor, Lightfoot served in various roles in city government, was Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Illinois criminal division, and most recently was a partner in private practice at Mayer Brown LLP.
With the Chicago Department of Health and the Office of Emergency and Management and Communications (OEMC), Mayor Lightfoot began managing Chicago’s response to coronavirus at the beginning of March, coordinating the city’s COVID-19 Taskforce. In late March, both Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Dr. Deborah Birx, Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, added Chicago among the hot spots for coronavirus in the U.S. Their announcements came about a week after Mayor Lightfoot joined Governor JB Pritzker in issuing a stay at home order for entire state of Illinois, including Chicago. At the same time, Lightfoot announced a small business relief fund and additional resources that would go to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. She also announced a partnership with Sittercity to help match essential workers with child care.
By early April, Chicago joined a small number of municipalities in beginning to report COVID-19 testing, infection, and outcome data by race. Communities of color are being hit the hardest by the virus. Data reported from New York City last week showed the Latinx community suffering most, with Black New Yorkers also over-represented in coronavirus-related deaths. In Chicago as of last Saturday, Black residents accounted for 70% of deaths while only making up 29% of the city’s population. In response, Mayor Lightfoot has announced that Chicago will form a Racial Equity Rapid Response Team to confront and mitigate the racialized outcomes present in the COVID-19 crisis. She explained, “This is a call-to-action moment for all of us. When we talk about equity and inclusion, they are not just nice notions. They are an imperative that we must embrace as a city. And we see this even more urgently when we look at these numbers.”
Mayor Lightfoot has taken to the streets and to the internet to push mitigation efforts in her city, often using humor as a way to engage citizens in her efforts to fight COVID-19. At the end of March, she issued a public service announcement as part of the Stay Home, Save Lives initiative. By early April, various memes of the mayor were being circulated online to communicate the seriousness with which she was taking the stay at home order. Lightfoot has shared many of them on her own social media accounts, garnering city-, state-, and nationwide attention. Only reinforcing her role as the enforcer of the city’s stay-at-home efforts, Lightfoot also made news last week for driving around the city and yelling at crowds of people to go home (she has warned she will continue to do this if citizens are not obeying the stay at home order). She explained, “I mean what I say: We have to protect ourselves. We have to be smart about what we’re doing in the course of this pandemic. And if it means that I drive around and check whether people are in compliance, I’m happy to do it.”
These are just a few of the women mayors whose leadership in the fight against COVID-19 has contributed to curbing its spread. Women mayors are also managing coronavirus responses in other cities identified as existing or potential COVID-19 hot spots, including Atlanta (Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms), New Orleans (Mayor Latoya Cantrell), Salt Lake City (Mayor Erin Mendenhall), and Washington, DC (Mayor Muriel Bowser). While this is not an exhaustive list, it is important to note the particular leadership of Black women mayors across major cities most impacted by COVID-19. Of these 4 additional cities especially vulnerable to coronavirus spread, 3 are led by Black women mayors, in addition to the two Black women mayors (Breed and Lightfoot) highlighted above. A recent Essence profile of Black mayors’ responses to COVID-19 illuminated the particular influence of Black women mayors in ensuring that coronavirus responses address the disparate impact of the virus on Black communities.
Many more women mayors are coordinating efforts in cities of all sizes across the U.S. to be sure that their communities stay safe and to prevent spread among their citizens. Their leadership in this crisis is essential and places them on the front lines in the nation’s fight against COVID-19. For that, we should all be grateful.
The gendered dimensions of today’s global pandemic are being revealed, felt, and analyzed in real time. From the gender differences in infection and death rates (higher for men) to the amplification of gender inequities in the economic and domestic spheres that heighten the vulnerability of women’s economic, physical, and mental health, the gendered impact of COVID-19 is already evident. There are also gender stories about who is waging the fight against COVID-19. According the U.S. Census Bureau, women hold 76% of all heath care jobs. More specifically, women are over 85% of registered nurses nationwide, dominating one of the groups standing on the front lines battling coronavirus via patient care in hospitals nationwide.
There is another group of women health professionals who are also on the front lines in the war against COVID-19. Women are 31 of 50 (62%) of state health officials that are stepping up to lead states through this crisis. Women’s dominance in these appointed statewide executive roles is notable; women hold less than 30% of statewide elected executive offices nationwide. Moreover, while women of color hold just 5% (16 of 311) of all statewide elected executive positions in the U.S., at least 14% (7 of 50) of state health officials are women of color.
Women are the top health officials in five (IL, MA, MI, NJ, PA) of the ten states that have the highest number of COVID-19 cases today, according to the CDC, and the majority of these women are women of color. Here are a few more facts about these women leading statewide health efforts amidst the current pandemic.
Illinois: Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Department of Health
Dr. Ngozi Ezike is a board-certified internist and pediatrician. Previous to being appointed Director of Illinois’ Department of Health by Governor JB Pritzker in 2019, she was Medical Director at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, the largest single site juvenile detention facility in the country.
Dr. Ezike has, with Governor Pritzker, provided daily briefings to the citizens of Illinois throughout the COVID19 crisis, often presenting her statements in both English and Spanish. On March 30th, she quoted Abraham Lincoln at the briefing, noting, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”
I am grateful for the unwavering leadership of Dr. Ngozi Ezike, @IDPH Director. She has shown the world that civil servants can lead with factual guidance & heartfelt solace. You’re a beacon of hope for all of us! #ThankfulThursday #WomensHistoryMonth#IllinoisStrong pic.twitter.com/5eBcX8BWUx— Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton #AllinIllinois (@LtGovStratton) March 26, 2020
Massachusetts: Dr. Monica Bharel, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Health
Dr. Monica Bharel has practiced general internal medicine for more than 20 years including at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Medical Center, in neighborhood health centers, the Veterans Administration, and at nonprofit organizations. Prior to her appointment as Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health by Governor Charlie Baker in 2015, Dr. Bharel was the chief medical officer for the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. In 2017, during her tenure as commissioner, Massachusetts was named the healthiest state in the nation by America’s Health Rankings Annual Report.
Dr. Bharel has drawn from her experience providing front-line care during the COVID-19 crisis. At a March press briefing, she explained, “I understand the need of our health care providers, and I appreciate the urgent needs of our patients and health care professionals.” Dr. Bharel participated in daily briefings with Governor Baker until late March, when she tested positive for COVID-19. She has described the case as mild and continues to work remotely on the crisis facing the state and nation.
Michigan: Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Deputy Director for Health and Chief Medical Executive
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun completed her residency in emergency medicine and continues to practice emergency medicine part-time at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit while serving as Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive. Prior to her appointment by Governor Gretchen Whitmer as Chief Deputy Director for Health for the state of Michigan in 2019, Dr. Khaldun was the director and health officer for the Detroit Health Department and the chief medical officer for the Baltimore City Health Department. She also served as a Fellow in President Obama administration’s Office of Health Reform.
Under Dr. Khaldun’s leadership, Michigan has become one of the first states in the nation to release COVID-19 case data by race, revealing the racial disparities in positive tests, with Black citizens significantly over-represented in those testing positive and dying from coronavirus in Michigan. Dr. Khaldun explained these data, noting, “There is no question that the COVID-19 outbreak is having a more significant impact on marginalized and poorer communities, particularly communities of color.” Dr. Khaldun continues to brief Michigan residents daily, alongside Governor Whitmer, about the state’s efforts to address the coronavirus pandemic.
New Jersey: Judith Persichilli, Commissioner of the Department of Health
Judith Persichilli (R.N., B.S.N, M.A.) is a nurse with extensive experience in health administration. Prior to taking over New Jersey’s Department of Health in 2019, Persichilli served as the Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of University Hospital in Newark, as well as CEO of Catholic Health East in Michigan. In 2013, she was named one of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare by Modern Healthcare and, in 2006, she was inducted into the New Jersey State Nurses Association Hall of Honor.
Persichilli participates in daily briefings with Governor Phil Murphy, updating New Jersey and U.S. residents about trends in and actions taken in the state with the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the country. In a recent interview with NJ.com, Persichilli said that she “always wanted to be a nurse,” describing her early experience as an intensive care nurse. She explains that “individuals with clinical knowledge are in the best position to run hospitals.” Today, she runs the state of New Jersey’s medical response to COVID-19 with a combination of clinical and administrative experience.
Judith Persichilli has served admirably in her role as Commissioner of Health for the State of NJ. We have all watched as she has taken a leading role in educating us about the #COVID19 outbreak. I applaud her work.https://t.co/zyGMfz5Sit pic.twitter.com/Dv4EOnmvyh— Steve Sweeney (@NJSenatePres) March 31, 2020
Pennsylvania: Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health
Dr. Rachel Levine is a Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine, in addition to being Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health. Dr. Levine is also the President-Elect of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Dr. Levine began working for Pennsylvania’s Department of Health in 2015 and was confirmed as its Secretary of Health under Governor Tom Wolf’s administration in 2018. Prior to that, she served as Vice-Chair for Clinical Affairs for the Department of Pediatrics and Chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Dr. Levine has earned statewide and national attention not only for her achievements as Pennsylvania’s top doctor, but also for her openness as one of a still small number of openly transgender public officials in the United States.
In addition to providing daily briefings with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Dr. Levine has been active on Twitter throughout the COVID-19 crisis, providing useful information to Pennsylvania residents. In a recent interview with The Advocate, Dr. Levine explained her approach to leading the fight against COVID-19 in Pennsylvania: “It is very important to stay calm and focused in the midst of emergencies. And you know, that's what I learned in my clinical years during my training and then at my time at Mount Sinai and then Penn State when we would see very ill children and adolescents. In those emergency clinical situations, it's important to stay calm, and so that's what I do now.”
Your mask protects me from exposure and my mask protects you.— Dr. Rachel Levine (@SecretaryLevine) April 3, 2020
A mask isn’t a pass to go back to visiting friends or going to back to work at a non-essential business.
A mask is one more tool to protect ourselves against the spread of #COVID19. https://t.co/jDrfHRoTa7
These are just a handful of the women who are contributing their medical expertise to governmental efforts to address COVID-19. Women governors are also leading statewide responses to the virus in 9 states: Alabama (Kay Ivey), Iowa (Kim Reynolds), Kansas (Laura Kelly), Maine (Janet Mills), Michigan (Gretchen Whitmer), New Mexico (Michelle Lujan Grisham), Oregon (Kate Brown), Rhode Island (Gina Raimondo), and South Dakota (Kristi Noem).
At the federal level, Dr. Deborah Birx serves as the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, joined also on that task force by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. Dr. Birx is the Coordinator of the United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy. She is board certified in internal medicine, allergy and immunology, and diagnostic and clinical laboratory immunology. For more than three decades, she had led efforts to address HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and worldwide. She continues to be among the top White House officials briefing the nation about U.S. cases and response. Seema Verma is the Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). For over twenty years, she has drawn upon her master’s degree in public health to work in health care administration in both the public and private sectors.
Among the many individuals and groups who are contributing to the nation’s fight against COVID-19, these women in public leadership roles are playing key roles on the front lines.
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.