Early June Primaries Shed Light on Gender Trends to Watch in Election 2020

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.

U.S. House

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.

U.S. Senate

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.

Stay Tuned

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. 

Women Secure Multiple Nominations in Oregon, But Few Gains Likely in November

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.

U.S. Senate

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.

U.S. House

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.

Democrat Kara Eastman will Challenge Don Bacon Again in Nebraska, Seeking to Become First Democratic Woman to Represent Nebraska in Congress

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.

U.S. Senate

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).

U.S. House

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.

What Voters Could Biden's VP Pick Mobilize?

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.[1] 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.


[1] 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.

Pajamas, Dangling Cords, and Other No-No’s for Virtual Candidates

These days, hand-shaking, baby kissing, and door-knocking are scary and flout social distancing rules. The traditional ways candidates literally reach out and touch voters have been put on hold due to the coronavirus. No more direct contact means it’s necessary to master the art of being a virtual candidate.

Making the shift to online campaigning isn’t as easy as it may appear to be. Ask Joe Biden. His initial foray with a virtual town hall was marred by garbled audio that prevented viewers from hearing his message about fighting the pandemic.

For candidates up and down the ballot, reaching voters requires a vibrant online presence. It shouldn’t be overly produced, nor does it need to be perfect. But it should reflect who you are and why you’re ready to serve. I’ve been coaching women candidates for twenty years and here are my six top points on how to present your best virtual self.

  1. Give Yourself Credit for Persevering

Campaigning is hard work and doubly so now. In this health crisis, candidates, like voters, are juggling home-schooling demands and work cutbacks or job losses with anxiety about loved ones. Delayed primary election dates have also wreaked havoc on schedules. Amid the chaos, you deserve praise for staying focused on running. Women and people of color remain woefully underrepresented at all levels and that will change only with people like yourself stepping up.

  1. Set Up a Home Studio

Selecting the right location and camera equipment is easy, preventing the dog from barking while you’re using them isn’t. A quiet room with low traffic flow such as a bedroom or basement will help reduce the likelihood of interruptions by antsy kids. City Councilor Michelle Wu was being interviewed by Boston 25 News at home when her kids burst in. It happens! Be prepared to share your multi-tasking skills to create a connection with anyone facing a similar predicament.

The backdrop or area behind you that is visible to viewers presents an opportunity to send a message. The bookcases behind the councilwoman are a safe choice. Consider the strategic placement of a family photo or two. Or a campaign sign. But the focus of the frame should always be you, so clear away clutter like coffee cups, wine glasses (!), or messy stacks of paper.

  1. The Right Stuff

There are two pieces of equipment you need to purchase – an IFB ear piece and a light kit. The IFB plugs directly into your smartphone or desk top and provides good quality audio for interactive events such as video conferences or media appearances. The earpieces are barely visible, thus less distracting than white cords or bulky headphones. They are about 10 dollars and can be ordered online. (Another inexpensive, online purchase to invest in is a tripod if you plan to use your phone.)     

Do yourself a favor and add supplement lighting. Avoid harsh fluorescents and direct sunlight. Sitting with a window behind you will result in dark shadows obscuring your face. Bright sunlight from the front can wash you out. An affordable choice is a ring light like the one shown in the photo with newscaster Soledad O’Brien in her home studio. It adds soft, diffused light that fills in shadows and flatters the face.

  1. Test. Record. Playback.

It is imperative to test drive the equipment before going live with an audience. Experiment with camera angles so that the camera shoots your best side. Most people look better with a slightly angled shot rather than straight on. Position the light so that it also comes in from the side. If there is a window, sit so that indirect light comes from the other side. A shear curtain will soften any glare. The mic on your phone or desktop should do the job. Carpeted floors and fabric drapes absorb sound and can reduce echoes or a tinny sound.

With everything in place, record a rehearsal then play it back to see how it looks. You may need to adjust the placement of the camera or light. Do another run-through to check timing. Online you are competing with creative 15-second TikToks. Social media posts should clock in under 60 seconds and bio pieces and donor appeals no longer than five minutes.

  1. Relevant Messaging

The only thing people care about right now is the pandemic and your message must reflect that.  If you are an incumbent, talk about the actions you’re taking. The crisis has given many people a greater appreciation for the important role state and local government play in their lives. The decision by Oregon Governor Kate Brown to send 140 life-saving ventilators to hard hit New York showed leadership and compassion. If you are a first-time candidate, share an example of your problem-solving ability. Voters are looking for leaders who can work with others to get things done and who will tell them the truth.

During the Great Depression, FDR spoke directly to the public with fireside chats. The president’s intimate radio broadcasts utilized the mass media technology of the day to reach people in their homes and are credited with reassuring the public and preventing a run on the banks. Regular social media posts can offer inspiration, suggestions on ways to help others, and lift up stories of neighbors helping neighbors.

  1. Look Good to Do Good

Claire McCaskill purposefully posted this photo of herself looking like a pro above the waist while wearing PJ bottoms. As a former U.S. Senator, she can get away with it but you shouldn’t risk it. A less than serious look can undermine an attempt to convey a serious message especially when the most viewers don’t know who you are.

Wear a complete look – you’ll feel more on. And if a camera shot goes wide, you won’t be embarrassed. The basics include outfits in solid colors like what former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is wearing below. Purple and rich colors show up well on-camera. Avoid large, shiny pieces of jewelry. Beads or pearls are better choices. Makeup should include undereye concealer, foundation, powder, and matte lipstick.

In this new world order, be assured that with preparation you can carry on a virtual campaign. Here is some inspiration from state legislative candidates in Texas. Their campaign video is clever, energetic, and it follows all of the social distancing guidelines.

Women See Success in Ohio Primary — But Most Face Steep Climb to Victory in November

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.

Denominators Matter: Women as a Percentage of All Candidates and Nominees


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.

8 Tips for Teaching Your Kids about Women and Political Leadership

This post is part of a series on teaching students about women and American politics. See the firt post in the series, Engaging Students Online: Resources and Activities on Women in American Politics, here.

As more parents and educators adapt to our new reality of online learning, many are searching for educational topics that will keep the children in their lives engaged, informed, and hopeful about the future. The issue of women and political leadership is timely and can be easily incorporated into various academic subject areas as well as family discussions and playtime. The Center for American Women and Politics’ Teach a Girl to Lead® (TAG) project has insightful and interactive content that will stimulate young people’s interest in the subject of women’s political leadership and keep them attentive and entertained. Here are 8 examples of ways to use TAG content both during class time and play time for K-12 students:

*All of these activities can be adapted for both online learning management systems and a traditional in-class format.

Activity #1 - Apply a gender lens to whatever you are teaching/doing.

No matter what you are teaching or doing, applying a gender lens is a useful way of thinking about the larger picture and beginning a conversation on this topic. It means to view programs and materials with particular attention to gender imbalances or biases in what is being presented. Using a gender lens reveals the ways in which content and approaches are gendered – informed by, shaped by, or biased toward men’s or women’s perspectives or experiences.

A great way to start applying a gender lens is by using characters from books, films, and games that your child already enjoys to think about gender imbalances and leadership. For instance, if your child really enjoys Marvel, have them read books on women leaders like Captain Marvel or Storm of the X-Men and discuss how their leadership legacy compares to that of a woman politician and what gendered obstacles they may share. Or have your kids/students write a campaign slogan or election plan for a young woman leader in the Marvel Universe like Ms. Marvel or Iron Heart and have them discuss the gender-specific perspective they can bring to government. Gender is in everything, challenge yourself and the young people in your life to think about all that they learn and encounter through a gender lens. 

Activity #2 – Tune into the TAG Virtual Reading Project

Women state legislators across the country have continued their participation in the Teach a Girl to Lead® Reading Project virtually by hosting online readings and discussions of the book Grace Goes to Washington by Kelly DiPucchio. As part of our annual Reading Project, with generous support from the Hess Foundation, the Honorable Constance Hess Williams, and Comcast NBCUniversal, this past fall we sent copies of Grace Goes to Washington to every woman state legislator, statewide elected official, and member of Congress. We encouraged them to read and discuss this book with kids in their district. Many of them are now hosting virtual story time on their social media pages.

Check your local state legislators’ page to see if they are hosting a story time, if not then encourage them to do so by sending them this link. You can also tune in to a reading hosted by another woman legislator, CAWP’s social media keeps track of when they are happening. So far we have reposted videos of Rep. Ashton Clemmons (NC), Rep. Attica Scott (KY), and Rep. Holly Rehder (MO) participating in this project. This is not only a great way for students to get access to this amazing book that explains how federal government works to elementary school-aged children, but it also is a great way to help your kids virtually meet a woman legislator and learn from them.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama will also be hosting virtual read-along sessions with PBS Kids every Monday at 12 pm ET from April 20 to May 11, 2020.

Activity #3 – Celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage

August 18, 2020 marks 100 years since the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing the right of citizens to vote without any denial or abridgement on the basis of sex. This amendment granted women in the U.S. the right to vote and was the result of a historic movement led by women. In the Teach a Girl to Lead® Teaching Toolbox, we have a Women’s Suffrage in the United States lesson plan that explores the history of the women’s suffrage movement and includes materials, handouts, biographies, readings, and videos to choose from. It also includes discussion questions categorized by age group that connect the history of women’s suffrage to concepts of equal rights and representation. Check out the Center for American Women and Politics website  as well for more suffrage centennial data and resources

This lesson can be followed up with your own suffrage centennial celebration. Participants can dress up as a known suffragist, read from historical speeches and documents, and watch movies about the women who led this movement. In courses related to math, students can use our CAWP fact sheets to examine statistics on women’s voting records since suffrage and analyze them. Whatever you decide to do, help us celebrate this important anniversary!

Activity #4 – Choose a book, film, or web video from our expansive list

Down time can also be a great time to learn through books, films, and web content. We at CAWP have compiled expansive lists of media content focused on women’s political history and women public leaders. The lists can be easily searched and have content for all age groups, reading preferences, learning styles, etc. You can make this content interactive by following up with discussion questions, making art or poetry of the characters you encountered, rethinking plot lines and interview questions you saw, and/or dressing up as characters.

Check out our lists here and find something that might interest you and the young people in your life.

Activity #5 – Dive into the relationship between women and our political institutions

Your students/kids have lived with the potential reality of a woman president, whether through the campaigns of the women who ran for president in the 2020 primaries or through the historic nomination of Hillary Clinton in 2016.  Additionally, with the record-breaking number of women who ran, and won, in the 2018 congressional elections, young people are starting to see more attention being paid to the lack of gender parity in their political institutions overall.

The lesson plans in the Teach a Girl to Lead® Teaching Toolbox on Women and the Presidency and Women and Congress delve into the complexity of women’s relationships with these political institutions and can help spark a discussion with your students on what they have observed around women’s roles in these institutions in this current time. Like all lesson plans in our toolbox, these modules are complete with resources and discussion questions for all ages.

Activity #6 – Explore the historical and current impact of women of color in American politics

The subject of the underrepresentation, roles, and impact of women of color in American politics is something that all young people should be aware of. The lesson plan on Women of Color in American Politics in the Teach a Girl to Lead® Teaching Toolbox is a great way of bringing that awareness into your classroom and home. The goal of this module is to provide resources and ideas that will alter young people’s image of politics as a masculine space and political actors as white men and challenge them to move beyond assumptions about “men” and “women” in politics by offering resources that illuminate the diversity within women. 

Use our book list to search books by and about women of color in politics and make a reading list for your kids. April is National Poetry Month, so this is also a great time to explore the political poetry of women of color political activists, like Audre Lorde, and bring it into conversation with the current and historical treatment of women of color in the United States.

Activity #7 – Utilize games and puzzles

Games and puzzles are a fun and interactive way to get a child learning, and can turn into an engaging activity for the whole family or classroom. This Teach a Girl to Lead® list features hands-on activities and exercises, including a women’s political history Jeopardy game and an Advocacy Day role-playing exercise. Additionally, there are newer games related to women’s political leadership that are great for educating and engaging young folks.

The award-winning 2121 game is a guided facilitator card game where each player acts as a real woman who is running or has run for office. The game utilizes role-playing and strategic decision-making that highlights the process of running for office for many women and also includes historical information on women and politics. Another example is the Who’s She board game from Playeress, which is like Guess Who? with notable women’s history figures as the playable characters. Additionally, there is’s Famous Women in American History card game, the Little Feminist Memory Match game, and the Little People, Big Dreams matching game.

Puzzles are also fun for kids to engage with and spend time away from their screens. Some examples are: Nevertheless She Persisted puzzle, Ridley’s Inspirational Women Feminist Circular Jigsaw puzzle, Little Feminist Family puzzle, Votes for Women puzzle, and Women Who Dared building blocks. To set free the inner artist and do a quiet activity, you can turn to coloring books like the America’s First Ladies Coloring Book, and The Blue Stocking Society Coloring Book, which highlights women of color leaders, and this Huffington Post list of printable coloring sheets of women leaders.

Finally, virtual trivia games on women’s political history are also available on educational sites Scholastic and Brain Pop. You can also check out the National Women’s History Alliance for a list of trivia games created by them.

Activity #8 – Engage with the experts and the community

There is a larger community of folks who are already doing the work to educate young people on women and political leadership, and they want to involve you!

Follow a Women & Politics academic on social media and see what they are doing at home with their families and students. Christina Wolbrecht, Director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy and professor of Political Science at Notre Dame University, created a syllabus for watching Mrs. America on FX, a series about the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. Amanda Bittner, Director of the Gender & Politics Laboratory and professor of Political Science at Memorial University, recently shared a #5DaysofGenderPol homeschooling lesson plan for children aged 7+ that is adaptable to all ages. This lesson plan gets kids thinking about gender and political leadership through numerous interactive exercises, readings, and discussion questions.

You can also check out this list of programs and places on the TAG site and see what programs in your area you would like to connect with. Many of them are putting out interactive, engaging, content related to the topic of women and political leadership. The Center for American Women and Politics website has lots of resources such as fact sheets and timelines that can be used for interactive exercises like trivia games, such as our Milestones for Women in American Politics timeline. For more resources on how to use the research, data, and analysis done by the Center for American Women and Politics for online learning please check out this post on our CAWP blog by Research Associate Claire Gothreau. 

Invite your larger school community, family, and friends to try any of these ideas with you. It is so important for young folks to learn about women’s political leadership now so that they can change the future for the better. 

Women on the Front Lines in Cities’ Fights Against COVID-19


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.

Campaigning During COVID

This post is based on the author's live webinar presentation: “Campaigning During COVID, Part I”, as offered by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. Download and follow along with the accompanying Power Point presentation. Part II’s webinar will be on Campaign Tactics and presented on Tuesday, April 14th. To participate, register here

It’s April 2020 and all across the world COVID-19 has taken over our everyday way of living and far too many people are getting sick and dying from it. We are experiencing something the majority of us have never seen nor faced before, resulting in major uncertainties and challenges in the election arena for candidates on the ballot in 2020.

While we are all dealing with the uncertainty in how we live our daily lives, as well as when and if our lives will return to normal, candidates for public office are also dealing with “campaign” issues, including the uncertainty of whether or not it’s okay to campaign and the uncertainty about how to actually campaign. Candidates are also facing uncertainty around “election” issues including how voters will be able to cast their votes, and when filing deadlines and elections – both primaries and, possibly, the general – will be held. If it is any consolation, just about all candidates and their opponents are facing these same issues.

The first concerns listed in the previous paragraph – the uncertainty in how we live our daily lives, as well as when and if our lives will return to normal – are the only two that the people you want to serve actually care about. This is very important for candidates to understand, as your future constituents’ concerns are what should drive your campaign strategy.

Is it Okay to Campaign During COVID?
Yes, it is okay campaign as long as you follow “social distancing/stay at home” orders, and any other orders applicable to your district/state. You cannot campaign in the manner we did this past election cycle, but there are still ways to be effective.

Similarly, when is it okay to campaign? Common sense rules the day. If your communities are spiking in numbers of those suffering and dying from COVID and your election isn’t until November, then now is not the time. However, if your primary has not been postponed but rather is imminent, then campaigning – following the law of “social distancing/stay at home” – is acceptable. That does not mean everyone will think it is okay to campaign, and that is why we are having this discussion. Further down in the post when we discuss messaging, we will address how to respond to those who don’t think you should be campaigning.     

Part of the reason it is okay to campaign is because it is during times of uncertainty like these that people look to, and for, leadership. In troubled times, our country has proven over and over again that not only do we come together but we rally together. Elections are foundational to the way our country is run and to our moving forward to better, and healthier, times.

The next obvious campaign questions are whether or not it is okay to fundraise while people are losing their jobs, and possibly their family’s sole source of income, and whether or not negative campaigning is appropriate. Fundraising is acceptable as long as you are respectful of the very hard times some people are going through, while also lowering your expectations of what you will be able to raise since your campaign fundraising is not a priority for others. Negative campaigning is a separate issue all on its own, and unless your election is imminent, now is not the time, and even then, it is probably not the time for negative campaigning. Better to hold that option until after things improve. 

“How to” Campaign
In my thirty years of working on campaigns, nothing, not COVID-19, not September 11th nor anything else, has or will ever change the fact that campaigns are made up of strategy and tactics, and that tactics should never come before strategy. Strategy always drives tactics. In “The Art of War”, Sun Tzu wrote, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” If your strategy is wrong, your tactics are wrong.

Therefore, the first thing to do is regroup and revise your strategy, if necessary. Unless your plan already takes COVID-19 into consideration, that plan will not work. Candidates need to capture what is happening in the political environment. Usually what is happening nationally does not impact local campaigns. However, COVID-19 is opening up whole new conversations, including some involving the authority of states and more. Candidates need to understand the impact COVID is having on their local communities, starting with what is on people’s minds, i.e., life, death, uncertainty, financial concerns, plus much more. Candidates must respect the intensity of what people are going through and what they are feeling, while understanding everyone’s experiences and feelings are different. Candidates need to connect with their voters on what is important to them, demonstrating the candidate’s understanding, care, and willingness to work to help make things better for their communities. Quite simply, “voters do not care what you know until they know that you care.” 

Where to Begin.
Begin by being a leader during these very troubling and uncertain times. It is always the right time to do the right thing. If you are an incumbent elected official, the best thing you can do is do your job. If you are a challenger, try to act like an elected public servant; be a part of the solution and help connect people to services and resources they many need. Start demonstrating your leadership by:

  1. Redefining “why you” and how you are going to be a part of the solution. Yes, you need to talk about COVID and connect it to your why. This does not mean politicize it, nor make it about you and your personal stress or pain.  Rather discuss how this has reinforced why you want to serve/make a difference. As noted earlier, some people may not be receptive to campaigning at this time. Be respective of them and their opinion, and politely explain to them how it is exactly because of these uncertain times and the need to deal with the specific impacts of COVID in your district that you are even more committed to serving your neighbors. Make sure here that you are speaking authentically about yourself and your district.
  2. Revise your overall focus on the issues. Potholes in the road probably are not on the top of the list of concerns anymore. Conversely, COVID is probably not the only concern, even though is it probably the number one issue.
  3. Step up and be a public leader now – which you can demonstrate by:
    1. Being the calm in the storm. Don’t make things more stressful by making this a political ideological fight, or a blame game. Now is not the time. Make it about finding solutions and moving forward towards healthier and better times.
    2. Listen with compassion. Before starting your political pitch, ask people how they are doing and how you can help; sincerely listen because sometimes leadership is simply listening. 
    3. Be a connector and a resource. You don’t have to have the all answers to people’s questions, but it would be helpful to be able to connect them to the appropriate resources or help them know where and how to find the help they need. For example, making sure seniors know when senior shopping hours are scheduled at the local grocery store, providing an online link to a reputable source of symptoms of COVID, etc.
    4. Be an optimistic voice. There is enough stress and anxiety out there. Provide realistic optimism, without going overboard, communicating that we will get through this together and it will get better. Our country has survived many, many hardships and we will survive this too, and people need to hear some positivity. As  a leader, you are the right person to share it, with realistic optimism. To reinforce the earlier point that “voters don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” you may have heard Maya Angelou express a similar sentiment when she said: “At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Try to end conversations on a positive note about how we will get through this together and how you want to work to ensure that the problems affecting your own community are improved.

Strategy first, then tactics. While these are uncertain times for candidates, they are even more uncertain for all of us — the people you want to serve. If you always put first the people you want to serve, then, yes, it’s okay to campaign.