What We’re Watching: Second Time’s the Charm?

 

At the end of the 2018 midterm cycle, our friends and collaborators at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation published a new research memo, Relaunch: Resilience and Rebuilding for Women Candidates After an Electoral Loss, that looked at voter perceptions of losing candidates and how those candidates might make a successful electoral appeal moving forward. This piqued our interest. A record number of women ran for office last year, yes, and a record number won. But, among the races we track*, 2,172 women also lost an election in 2018, and that’s just general election losses. What’s next for them?

For more than forty women who ran for Congress or statewide office, getting knocked down in 2018 means getting up again in 2020. As part of our Buzz 2020 candidate-tracking project, we’ve been keeping tabs on all the rumored 2020 candidates who ran congressional and statewide campaigns in 2018 but weren’t ultimately successful. Of the 593 women who lost primary or general election bids in these races during the last cycle, we’ve counted 43 thus far who are already moving towards a 2020 campaign. Some of these candidates, like Brianna Wu in Massachusetts, lost primary contests. Others cleared the primary but fell in the general, Texas’s Gina Ortiz Jones among them. There are rematches brewing, like Georgia’s Karen Handel, who’s preparing a campaign against Rep. Lucy McBath after McBath knocked her out of the Georgia 6th seat in 2018. Then there are candidates like Amy McGrath and M.J. Hegar, who are parlaying star-making but ultimately unsuccessful 2018 House runs into 2020 challenges against entrenched Senate incumbents.**

While much research has detailed the distinct hurdles to candidacy for women, Dr. Danielle Thomsen's research on candidate reemergence (from 1980 to 2014) finds no significant gender difference in U.S. House candidates' decision to run again. Relaunch, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation research, provides a game plan to guide that reemergence. First of all, they find that an electoral loss does not lead to shifts in favorability ratings and voters’ perceptions of candidate qualifications, and they outline strategies for messaging and engagement that their study shows can create the groundwork for future success. On messaging, Relaunch encourages candidates to stay positive, avoid laying blame, emphasize the campaign’s strengths and successes, and focus their forward-looking message on the collective energy of the campaign and its supporters, rather than solely on the candidate. Between campaigns, candidates should stay engaged with the issues that they ran on and with the community that makes up their potential constituency. Candidates who were already holding another political office should emphasize the continuing contributions they make in their current position. Otherwise, women hoping to run again should stay engaged with listening tours, becoming active in their party, and getting involved in activism on specific issues related to their past (and future) campaigns.

It takes more women running to get more women winning. It’s the only path to political parity. As with anything worth doing, it takes experience and practice to forge talent into success, so these women who have chanced a campaign, the near-misses and the longshots, aren’t just people who have lost elections; they’re a pool of experienced and practiced campaigners poised to win. They got knocked down. But they got up again. You’re never going to keep them down.

See all the returning candidates at our Election Watch page, Rebound Candidates: Women congressional and statewide candidates who lost in 2018 and are likely to run again in 2020.

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  *U.S. Congress, statewide elected executive offices (including governor), and state legislative candidates.
**How are we tracking rumored candidates when filing deadlines are months away? This information comes from at least two of the following sources: KnowWho Data Services; Campaigns and Elections; House Race Hotline; CQ Politics Daily; Politics1.com; The Hill; Roll Call; and local newspapers in many states.