Primary voters on Tuesday night set a record for nominating women to run for governor in either major party, according to data collected by the Center for American Women and Politics. The total number of 2018 female nominees now stands at 11, thanks to Democratic voters in Michigan and Kansas.
The record for women nominees has been difficult to break; CAWP says the previous record for women gubernatorial nominees was 10, which was first set in 1994 and matched a couple times since. Only six women currently occupy governor’s mansions.
The news is notable, too, because many of those nominees are women of color:
• Half of Democrats’ female nominees for governor — four out of eight — are women of color. That’s a big deal because there’s never been a Democratic woman of color governor. (Right now outgoing New Mexico Gov. Susan Martinez (R), a Latina, is the only woman of color leading a state.)
• Stacey Abrams, who is trying to be the first black female governor of any state, gets a lot of the headlines for potentially making the Georgia governor’s race competitive.
• In New Mexico, Rep. Lujan Grisham (D), a Latina, is currently the most favored to break the gender/race ceiling at the same time. New Mexico is Democrats’ best pick up opportunity in 2018. In May, former state representative Paulette Jordan became the first woman in Idaho to win the Democratic nomination for governor. She’s now trying to be the first Native American female governor, but she has an uphill battle in a red state.
With a number of outstanding primaries, women have the potential to smash through the record they just set Tuesday as well. There are 16 more female candidates still competing in gubernatorial primaries this year, from Hawaii to Florida, and in Wisconsin, Alaska and New York. Of course, not all of these women will their primaries.
And even if they do, there’s no guarantee they’ll win in November. Of the 11 major party nominees so far, about eight are ranked by election analysts as favored to win or in competitive races. The record in U.S. politics is nine female governors serving at once. Ten women will have to win in November to break that record.
But is 10 women serving as governor something to celebrate? It’s a step forward on paper, but as Kelly Dittmar of CAWP points out, reaching that milestone would still keep women at 20 percent of all governors — which is exactly the threshold they’ve been stuck at in Congress for a while now.
Experts do say that just having more women run for office can narrow a subtler gender gap: how voters put different expectations on female candidates than they do male candidates. Research shows voters require a women to come across as likable, which is not a qualification voters demand in male candidates. More women in the field, running their own unique campaigns, can help reframe what voters expect from women, says Dittmar.