Year of the Democratic Women

Stacey Abrams

According to the Women Rule Candidate Tracker, almost 600 women said they were running for seats in the U.S. House or Senate, or for governorships during the current cycle. Of those, 178 have advanced in primaries, 197 are still waiting for primary races, and 217 have lost primaries or dropped out.

But the vast majority of those women running, winning primaries, and gearing up for November are Democrats. “Things have changed, but for Republican women, sadly the number has more or less stayed at a dismally low level,” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican representative for Florida’s 27th district, told POLITICO’s Rachael Bade in July. Ros-Lehtinen, who isn’t running for re-election this year, blames Trump for some of the problems Republican women are facing: “He’s going to be hanging on you like an albatross around your neck. Ugh! It is a real knot for female candidates.”

According to the candidate-tracking project (a collaboration between POLITICO, the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, and the Women in Public Service Project at The Wilson Center), only 35 Republican women have won House primary races as of July 25, compared with 122 Democratic women. Almost all the high-profile candidates who have attracted national attention—including Stacey Abrams in the Georgia governor’s race, Lupe Valdez in the Texas governor’s race, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the U.S. House race for New York’s 14th district—are Democrats. In part, it’s because Democratic women are obviously fired up by Donald Trump’s presidency.

The political action committee Run for Something, which was founded on Inauguration Day in 2017 to help young progressives run for local offices, is supporting a few hundred first- or second-time candidates, and about half are women. Emily’s List, which has been working since 1985 to elect pro-choice women, says some 40,000 women have reached out to the organization since Trump’s election to learn more about running for office. That compares with only 920 women who contacted the group during the full 2016 election cycle.

Republican women have clearly not been as outraged by their party’s assaults on reproductive rights, health care, and social programs, and haven’t felt compelled to jump into the fray. But even if more of them were trying to take matters into their own hands, they would be at a disadvantage: A June poll by POLITICO/Morning Consult found that when Republicans were asked whether they’d prefer to vote for a male or female candidate (all else being equal), 15 percent chose men and only 2 percent chose women. Among Democrats polled, those numbers were essentially reversed, with 15 percent saying they’d rather vote for a woman and 4 percent choosing a man. (Notably, about 80 percent of both groups said the candidate’s gender wouldn’t make any difference to them.)

What’s more, there just aren’t as many women in the Republican party as there are among the pool of Democrats. Pew Research Center survey results in the spring showed that 56 percent of women identify as Democrats or lean Democratic (up four percentage points since 2015), compared with 37 percent who identify or lean toward the Republican party. A key stepping-stone to running for national office is experience on a state legislature, but according to fivethirtyeight.com, only 17 percent of Republican state legislators are women, compared with 36 percent of Democratic state legislators.

While Democrats should rightly be proud and pleased about the progress we’re making toward more equal representation of women among our political leaders, we can’t be happy about the lack of women on the other side—as the Republican party skews further right, one can’t help but wonder whether more women wouldn’t temper the party’s destructive instincts on issues like breaking up immigrant families and making health care less accessible. Retiring Representative Ros-Lehtinen told NBC that the House is still a “good ol’ boys’ club.”