One of the most circulated “women’s stories” of this week’s election has been the celebration of reaching 100 women in Congress. Because Alma Adams (D-NC) was elected in both her special election and general election contest, she will be sworn in to the 113th Congress next week and cause the number of women in the House to move from 79 to 80, and thus the overall number of women in Congress to reach 100 from 99. Reaching this marker is no small feat, as those of us who study and work with women in politics know. Just over two decades ago, in the 102nd Congress, only one-third (32) as many women served. Even more, it was not until Shirley Chisholm’s election to the House in 1968 that a Black woman served in Congress. Alma Adams becomes the 32nd Black women to serve in Congress, and was one of four new Black women members elected to the 114th Congress on Tuesday. In fact, women of color will make up over one-third of the House women’s caucus in 2015, as they have in the 113th Congress.
First, those 100 women in Congress serve in a 535-member body (combining House and Senate). Doing the math yields a number far less worthy of celebration: 18.7%. Even with 100 members, women are less than one-fifth of Congress, despite being over 50% of the U.S. population. Second, we hit 100 women in Congress on Tuesday from a starting point of 99. Even if all remaining races with women candidates break in their favor, only 105 women will serve in the 114th Congress. That’s a net increase of six in the best case scenario for women, indicating a pace of progress that’s hardly impressive. Third, even among new members of Congress, women remain seriously underrepresented. According to the latest numbers of new members of the 114th Congress (with some races still undecided), women will be 19% of the freshman class. This isn’t terribly surprising when women make up a similarly low proportion of nominees going into Election Day. I don’t point out these statistics to discount the success of the women who put themselves forward for congressional offices this year. They are on the front lines of progress, doing what’s needed to disrupt the relatively stagnant trends I note here. For example, our two new women senators are the first women elected to the U.S. Senate from their states. Among the new women in the House, Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Mia Love (R-UT) are the first Black women from their states to serve in Congress. They are joined by female trailblazers at other levels of office this year, from Gina Raimondo’s election as the first woman governor of Rhode Island to the addition of 10 new Republican women in statewide elected executive offices nationwide. Rhode Island’s newly-elected Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is the first Latina elected statewide in all of the northeast, Evelyn Sanguinetti (Illinois) was elected as the nation's first Latina Lieutenant Governor, and Maura Healey will become the first openly LGBT person to serve as a state’s Attorney General next year. We should not overlook or reduce the accomplishments of these women, but I raise the concerns above to ensure that the narrative of women’s success is not so overstated by one statistic that it yields complacency. We can all take a minute to celebrate this marker of women’s progress, and more importantly the women who’ve marked it, but let’s also note where 100 falls short and what we can do to move well beyond it in elections to come.
By Jean Sinzdak, Director, Program for Women Public Officials, Center for American Women and Politics In January, Joni Ernst (R-IA) will be among the 104 women serving in the 114th US Congress. In addition to being the first woman elected to represent Iowa in Washington, Ernst made history in November as the first woman veteran elected to serve in the US Senate. She will join fellow veterans Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who made history in 2012 as the first female combat veterans elected to serve in the US House, and Martha McSally, who was elected to the House this year from Arizona. With these additions, six women veterans will have served in Congress. (Former Representatives Catherine Small Long (D-LA), Heather Wilson (R-NM), and Sandy Adams (R-FL) round out the group.) CAWP’s research indicates that women bring different priorities and experiences to public life, and women officeholders help make government more transparent, inclusive and accessible. Women public officials – elected and appointed – have an impact on public policy that ultimately affects the entire population of the state, region and nation. Today there are an estimated 2.2 million female veterans, and they represent one of the fastest growing segments of the veteran population – about 10 percent of the total 22 million veterans in this country. Women veterans have already put their country first by serving in the military; they are exactly the kind of people we need as public leaders. And recognizing the distinctive experiences of women in the armed services, it’s clear that women vets will bring especially valuable insights to Congress. CAWP has partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Center for Women Veterans to help women veterans develop skill sets to prepare them for public and community service opportunities within their communities. The Center for Women Veterans, created in 1994 to monitor the VA’s administration of benefits and services to women Veterans and to advise the Secretary on the VA policy’s impact on Women Veterans, will advise CAWP on how it focuses its resource information to address women veterans’ issues. “Women veterans often contact us for information about how they can continue serving,” says Elisa M. Basnight, director of the Center for Women Veterans. “This agreement with CAWP presents a prime opportunity for the Center to help prepare them for other forms of public service as it responds to a persistent need women veterans tell us they have, which is the desire to continue to make a difference after the uniform.” CAWP is also partnering with Veterans Campaign, a program of the National Association for Uniformed Services, on a female leadership workshop at their Veterans Campaign Training, which will be held on Feb. 21-25, 2015 in Washington, DC. In addition, women veterans (and any women!) can attend one of the Ready to Run® programs hosted by CAWP or our partners around the country – upcoming programs can be found here. Additional campaign trainings and leadership programs can be found on CAWP’s national Political & Leadership Resources for Women map. For more information about and other resources for women veterans, you can also visit the Center for Women Veterans.
Today we are focusing on the outlook for women running in U.S. Senate races this year. Neither Senate nor House races feature record numbers of women candidates or nominees this cycle, but we may see a net increase in the number of women serving in the U.S. Senate in January 2015. Much depends on how some of the most competitive Senate races of this cycle break next Tuesday. Candidates and Nominees Thirty-one (15D, 16R) women filed to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014. The record number of women filing for the Senate is 36, set in 2010 (19D, 17R) and reached again in 2012 (20D, 16R). This year, 14 (9D, 5R) women have won their primaries, and incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu (D) will be on the November 4th ballot in Louisiana’s same-day primary. The record for women Senate nominees was set in 2012, with 18 women (12D, 6R) making it through their party primaries. There are two woman–versus-woman Senate races this year: in Maine (Susan Collins [R] v. Shenna Bellows [D]) and West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito [R] v. Natalie Tennant [D]). It’s important to look at the types of contests in which women are running to determine their likelihood of winning. In 2014, 7 (4D, 3R) women are nominees for open U.S. Senate seats, compared to the 8 (4D, 4R) women running for open seats in 2012. As the charts below show, women have fallen short of making history as candidates, nominees, or open seat nominees in either major political party this year. This is the first election since 1992 in which more Republican women than Democratic women filed for U.S. Senate seats, but more Democratic women made it through their primaries to become Senate nominees. Women in the 114th Congress Twenty (16D, 4R) women currently serve in the U.S. Senate. There are no incumbent women senators stepping down this year, and four (3D, 1R) incumbent women are up for re-election. Sixteen (13D, 3R) incumbent women senators are holdovers who will remain in office through the 114th Congress. Based on the most recent ratings, two more women are very likely to win their Senate races next Tuesday: incumbent Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representative Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who is running for an open seat against another female candidate, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D-WV). Six (5D, 1R) more women candidates for the U.S. Senate are in contests rated as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report, including incumbents Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Kay Hagen (D-NC), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). Two women, Michelle Nunn (D-GA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), are running competitively for open seats, and Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-KY) is challenging incumbent Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s contentious Senate contest. Thus women are major party nominees in many of the races that will determine the partisan balance of power in the U.S. Senate, including six of the ten toss-up contests identified by Cook. Only two women of color, Connie Johnson (D-OK) and Joyce Dickerson (D-SC), are major party Senate nominees this year, and both are unlikely to win their races, leaving Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) as the only woman of color in the U.S. Senate in the 114th Congress. In 2012, a record 5 (4D, 1R) new women were elected to the U.S. Senate. We are unlikely to exceed that number of new women winning this year. What to Watch on Election Day In addition to tracking the numbers of women winning U.S. Senate seats on Election Day and closely monitoring the most competitive races with women running (see table above), we will be watching these races where women have the potential to make history:
- Georgia: Democrat Michelle Nunn, if elected, will be the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia. Rebecca Latimer Felton was appointed to the U.S. Senate from Georgia in 1922, but only served for one day. Nunn, daughter of former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn (D), would also become the second daughter of a former U.S. Senator to serve in the upper chamber of Congress. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was appointed to the Senate by her father, Frank Murkowski, in 2002 to fill his vacant seat. She has since been re-elected twice to her Senate seat.
- Iowa: Republican Joni Ernst, if elected, will be the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate from Iowa. Iowa is one of four states (DE, IA, MS, VT) that has never sent a woman to Congress. Ernst would also be the first female military veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate.
- Kentucky: Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, if elected, will be the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Kentucky, as well as the first Democratic woman elected to the U.S. Congress from that state. Grimes would also become the youngest woman to ever serve in the U.S. Senate, elected at 35 and turning 36 before January 2015. Former Senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D-AR), the youngest woman to serve in the U.S. Senate to date, was elected and sworn in at age 38.
- West Virginia: Republican Shelley Moore Capito is leading Democrat Natalie Tennant in a race to become the first woman Senator from West Virginia. If elected, Capito – currently a member of the U.S. House - will be the 11th woman ever to serve in both the U.S. House and Senate.
On a less positive note, no more than one incumbent woman Senator has ever lost her re-election in any previous election year. However, three female incumbents are in races considered toss-ups this year. For the latest numbers and information about women running for office in 2014, visit CAWP’s Election Watch 2014 and check out our next post on women running for governor this year. You can also follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter by using the hashtag #WomenRun2014.
It’s important to look at the types of contests in which women are running to determine their likelihood of winning. In 2014, 18 (11D, 7R) women are nominees for open U.S. House seats, compared to the record high of 39 (26D, 13R) women running for open seats in 1992. As the charts below show, women have fallen short of making history as candidates, nominees, or open seat nominees in either major political party this year. However, while the number of female nominees dropped between 2012 and 2014 for Democratic women House candidates, there was a slight increase, from 48 to 50 nominees, among Republican women candidates, with the Louisiana race still pending.Women in the 114th Congress
- AZ-2: Republican Martha McSally, if elected, will be the first Republican woman ever elected to Congress from Arizona.
- IA-3: Democrat Staci Appel, if elected, will be the first woman ever elected to the U.S. House from Iowa. Iowa is one of four states (DE, IA, MS, VT) that has never sent a woman to Congress.
- NJ-12: Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman, if elected, will be the first Black woman elected to Congress from New Jersey. She will also be the first woman in New Jersey’s congressional delegation since 2003.
- NY-21: Republican Elise Stefanik, if elected, will be the youngest woman ever sworn in to Congress at age 30. The youngest women to be sworn in to date were 31 years old.
- UT-4: Republican Mia Love, if elected, will be the first Black Republican woman to be elected to Congress. She will also be the first Black woman, and only the fourth woman, to ever serve in Utah’s congressional delegation.
- VA-10: Republican Barbara Comstock, if elected, will be the first woman in Virginia’s congressional delegation since 2009.
The following blog is a guest post from Felise Ortiz, a senior at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, double majoring in Political Science and Women's and Gender Studies with a minor in Spanish. She is an alumna of the NEW Leadership NJ Class of 2011. Felise is the Founder and President of Douglass D.I.V.A.S., a female empowerment student organization at Rutgers University. She is also an Institute for Women's Leadership Scholar as well as an Eagleton Institute of Politics Undergraduate Associate.
The underrepresentation of women in politics in the United States is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately and with urgency. With the help of the Institute of Women’s Leadership, my partner Jennifer Osolinski and I were able to facilitate a conversation addressing this issue. Our social action project was not only an opportunity to hone our feminist leadership skills but it also served as testament to the fact that the personal is indeed political. As former Eagleton and CAWP interns, Jennifer and I wanted our event to make at least one young woman consider a first step in the direction of politics. We were inspired by programs such as NEW LeadershipTM and Ready to RunTM because they inform women about the current political climate and encourage them to become involved in public service. While strategizing on how to reach a youthful audience, we were approached with the possibility of doing a film “Raising Ms. President” a new documentary about getting girls politically active. Once we watched the trailer, we agreed that it would be a great foundation for our project and our overall message. I learned a lesson in patience and professionalism from this portion of the experience. I also learned that is apart of the feminist model of leadership to use your network. Our networks ultimately resulted in three amazing panelists and the film arriving on time. We had an audience of about twenty-five people who were enthusiastic about the film and project as a whole. I had a list of prepared remarks and questions for the panelist. However, I learned the most from the audience’s engagement with the panelists. There were many though-provoking questions asked and answered. The key moment of the event for me occurred after most of the attendees departed and two panelists were left talking passionately about campaigns. One woman was a Caucasian Republican representative from a suburban town and the other was a Black Democrat from an urban city, and they were networking. I watched politics (how it should work) happen organically with two women who shared a love for public service. This project has taught me three key lessons: 1. The message is worth the madness. We were able to spread our message that women’s political involvement is important and can be transformational when it is made a priority. Any of the difficultly that we may have faced along the way was well worth it. 2. Not only is the personal, political but also the political is often better executed when it is personal. The research and our panelists attested to the fact that there is a dire need for more women in office in order for issues that affect women to be adequately advocated for. Another example would be my personal connection to this project, made me invested enough to see it through to the end. 3. Social justice based women’s leadership has been and will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. During this process I have been inspired by the social action projects of my classmates and how we have rallied together to support one another. The bond we created through this experience has strengthened me and I am truly grateful to have had this opportunity.