Ballots across the country will be stacked with women running potentially groundbreaking bids for office this November. Like the record number of women running — and winning — overall this year, those strides have been largely concentrated on the Democratic side. But Thursday’s primary in Tennessee brought a Republican woman one step closer to making history in her own right.
Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn sailed to victory in the GOP primary to succeed outgoing U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on Thursday, winning more than 80 percent of the vote. The Trump supporter and self-described “hard-core, card-carrying conservative” will face Democrat Phil Bredesen, a former governor, in what’s expected to be an expensive and hard-fought general election battle.
A win in November would make Blackburn the first woman to represent the Volunteer State in the United States Senate. She’s the first female nominee for the post in 40 years, according to the Center for American Women and Politics’ 2018 Gender Watch project.
The eight-term member of Congress is no stranger to breaking gender barriers in politics: She reportedly made history by winning country and state posts before becoming the first woman elected to represent her district back in 2002. But if her past bids are any indication, she won’t be making the gender aspect of her campaign a central focus on the campaign trail.
Blackburn is far from the only woman whose candidacy could reshape gender parity in politics. A number of states, including Maine and South Dakota, are poised to elect women to key statewide offices for the first time. Elections in Georgia and Idaho could lead to the nation’s first black and Native American female governors respectively.
Native American and Muslim women are among those running history-making bids for Congress, too. But many of those gains are happening on the left. A record number of women filed to run for governor, U.S. House and U.S. Senate; in all three cases Democratic women are outpacing their GOP peers. Two-thirds of the women who have won major party nominations for governor and Senate so far are Democrats.
When it comes to House races, there are already three times as many Democratic women slated for the November ballot, according to CAWP’s count. Whether those trends lead to a surge in women being elected in the general is yet to be seen. But the figures, coupled with a number of retirements among GOP women in Congress, may actually result in a decrease in the number of Republican women in the House next year, analysts have said.
Thursday’s primary, meanwhile, fell short of bigger potential gains when it comes to gender representation in Tennessee, which CAWP says is one of six states that has never sent a woman to the governor’s mansion or U.S. Senate.
While they gave Blackburn a seal of approval, Tennessee Republicans balked at the chance to take one step closer to electing a woman as governor for the first time. All four women running in the gubernatorial primaries lost. GOP Rep. Diane Black was seen as a front-runner early on in that race. But, even with Black’s endorsement from Vice President Pence, Republican voters went instead with Mike Lee, a businessman seen as an underdog. Black came in third, trailing by more than 10 percentage points.
And even if Blackburn wins the U.S. Senate race, the overall outlook for female representation in Tennessee — and the GOP caucus in Congress— is far from stellar.
Blackburn and Black, who gave up their House seats for statewide bids, were the only women representing Tennessee in Congress. Both will likely be replaced by men. And there’s a decent chance the state’s congressional delegation will be all men come January 2019.