Call it ironic or inevitable, but Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss to a man who labeled her a “nasty woman” hasn’t deterred other women from running for elected office. If anything, 2018 is shaping up to be a women’s wave.
The first swell came last week in state races in Virginia and New Jersey, where more women were on the ballot than at any time in at least a decade. And in Virginia, women won big: The 100-member House of Delegates will go from from 17 women members to as many as 29 next year (at least one race is being recounted).
Most of those women are Democrats riding a rise in progressive activism that began with the Women’s March in January, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Their victories at the ballot box and new data showing a corresponding surge in women running for Congress raise the possibility that 2018’s contests could elevate more women to elected office than ever before. (Just 19 percent of lawmakers in the U.S. House and 21 percent of those in the Senate are women.)
“I absolutely think we are a microcosm of what’s happening nationally, and I think this is just the beginning,” said Kathy Tran, a Northern Virginia Democrat who won a seat in the House of Delegates last Tuesday. “You have women that are running for office, but you also have women leading the resistance groups and leading volunteer efforts and voter engagement.”
Trump’s presidency has galvanized more women to run for Congress than at any other point in American history, new data shows. In 2016, 272 women filed to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. This cycle, 353 are already running, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, a nonpartisan research center.
That increase is driven pretty much entirely by Democratic women, whose 291 House candidates this cycle represent a stunning 64 percent jump over the last election. Of those women, 183 are challenging Republican incumbents and an additional 17 are challenging incumbent members of their own party.
These numbers could shift as more candidates jump in before next year’s filing deadlines or drop out because they don’t see a path to victory. But at the moment, no election comes close to 2018 in participation from Democratic women. Even 1992, declared “The Year of the Woman,” saw less than half as many running for the House.
There are so many women candidates this cycle that the Democratic Party and progressive groups have lost count. When asked how many women were running in their 80 battleground districts, a spokesperson at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said there were “tons” but that the group hadn’t had time to tally them all. A spokesperson for Emily’s List, which is dedicated to recruiting and supporting women candidates who fight for abortion rights, said they didn’t know the numbers were so high.
Katie Hill, a 30-year-old Democrat and first-time candidate running for Congress in California’s 25th District, said she felt compelled to run immediately after Trump’s victory. “Sometimes you have to see what is really at stake for you to say, ‘This is the time, this is the moment, and I’m not waiting any longer,’” she said. “And we all do that in different ways. My campaign is possible in many ways because of the women who stepped up and helped me.”
In July, the Pew Research Center found that 58 percent of women said they were paying more attention to politics compared with 46 percent of men. And Democratic women were more likely to be paying attention than Republican women in the Trump era, 63 percent to 54 percent.
The deluge of Democratic women candidates like Hill reflects the tremendous grassroots backlash to Trump more than any deliberate recruiting strategy by the Party, according to a dozen conversations with party officials and progressive women candidates who insist they recruited themselves.
In fact, there are more Democrats running overall, and women still make up less than a third of all Democratic House candidates, according to an analysis from CAWP, similar to their share early in the 2016 cycle.
For this reason, Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the center and an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University, cautioned against calling 2018 a second “Year of the Woman,” at least not yet. The increase in Democratic women candidates doesn’t guarantee gender parity among the eventual winners. Plus, Dittmar said, “You will never get to full gender parity writ large without equal numbers of Republican women running.”
Just 62 Republican House candidates so far this cycle — 11 percent — are women.
Republicans have trailed Democrats in the number of female candidates in every congressional cycle since 1992. They came closest in 2010, when increased activism on the right brought a Republican wave in the midterms. Of the 128 Republican women who ran that year, 24 won, a high-water mark for Republican women in the House, according to data compiled by CAWP.
Last week’s results in Virginia suggest that Democratic women can tap into the similar energy that now exists on the left to run and win — both against men in their own party and against Republicans. Forty-three of 50 women candidates in the state won their primaries this year, seven against men, and 23 of them won on Tuesday. Women were responsible for flipping 11 of the 14 seats Democrats won from Republicans in the House of Delegates.
Cheryl Turpin flipped one of those seats by just 394 votes after the party establishment had given her little chance of a win. Like Tran, she attributed her victory to newly engaged progressive women. “My core volunteer base is retired women, women who have never been in a volunteer role and who had never taken a moment to look at how campaigns are run but are motivated at this moment,” she said.
Turpin also had an outside assist from the women-led resistance group Sister District, which organized its volunteers to make 19,000 calls and knock on 3,000 doors for her, plus raised $35,000.
It’s still too early to tell whether the women’s wave in congressional candidates will trickle down to next year’s state legislative races, since those campaigns usually start up later. But Democratic Party organizers on the state and national level expect it will, based on talking with prospective candidates and observing those who have already declared.
“All across the country, women are stepping up to serve,” said Meredith Kelly, the DCCC’s communications director.
And some Democratic women candidates for state office have already gotten started. Anna Eskamani, a 27-year-old public affairs director at Planned Parenthood and an Iranian-American, has already raised more than $140,000 for her campaign to become a state representative in Florida.
Eskamani said she felt like she was running to represent two constituencies: her Orlando-area district and all women across the country fighting back against the Trump tide.
“When you put last year’s election in perspective with all the stories of sexual assault and harassment and the fact that this has been happening for generations,” she said, “that couples with this upcoming election cycle.”
“The personal is very political,” she added.
Cover image: Democrat Manka Dhingra, a candidate for Washington state’s 45th District Senate seat, talks with volunteers at her campaign headquarters in Redmond, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)