With the final primaries of the 2018 midterms in the books, all eyes are on the high-stakes November general election. Regardless of which party wins control in crucial state and federal races across the country, one thing is for sure: Women have already made major gains for gender parity on the campaign trail.
A record number of women are running for Congress and governor this year, and barrier-breaking candidacies across the country are setting the stage for historic “firsts” up and down the ballot.
The wave of women running was in some ways expected, especially given the sky-high levels of political activism from women on the left still reeling over President Trump’s 2016 win over Hillary Clinton. But the final tally has surprised even longtime observers of women in politics.
“You saw women translate the energy and advocacy that they had been putting out there on policy issues and [as part of] the ‘Resistance’ into candidacies,” Kelly Dittmar, a professor who tracks gender parity as a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, says.
“They’re not just saying I’m going to be donating and protesting, which are important things. They’re saying I also recognize the importance of me being at the policy-making table when the decisions are being made.”
How much progress these candidates will make on closing the gender gap that persists in American politics is to be seen. Many, especially on the Democratic side, are running against incumbents or in tough races. But Dittmar, who just released a book on women in public office, sees the large jump in nominees as a heartening sign after watching so many years of “small incremental increases each cycle.” It’s a trend she hopes can be sustained well beyond this cycle.
“That’s the only way to get to gender parity, or closer to gender parity, in a relatively short amount of time,” she says.
Here’s a look at how women are set to move the needle this November:
As it stands right now, just six of the nation’s 50 governors are women. That’s probably going to change this year. A record 16 women will be on the ballot for the top statewide executive post in November, according to data tracked by CAWP. Voters in five states — Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Maine and South Dakota — will decide whether to elect a woman for the first time ever (Iowa’s current female governor, Kim Reynolds, was appointed to the post and is running for a full term).
Still, some of the candidates could make history in other major ways. Georgia’s Stacey Abrams would be the nation’s first black female governor. A win by Paulette Jordan in Idaho would mark the first time a Native American woman served in the post. And Christine Hallquist in Vermont would make history as an openly transgender governor.
Women are also running in record numbers for statewide executive office overall, a category that includes posts like attorney general, auditor and secretary of state, and state legislature. CAWP has tallied a total of 128 women running for statewide executive offices, up from a previous record of 121. And more than 3,300 women are running for state legislature, with 34 states seeing an all-time-high number of female candidates on the ballot for legislative seats.
A glass-ceiling-shattering 234 women won their primaries for U.S. House this year, according to CAWP. The surge is largely driven by Democrats — they represent a vast majority of female candidates. Regardless of party, the number of female nominees, up from the previous record of 167, will almost certainly mean more women are serving in the House. Some analyses have suggested that could lead to as many as 100 female members come January 2019 (for context, today there are 84, representing just 19 percent of the total membership).
“We are certainly on track to see a record number of women in the 116th Congress,” CAWP Director Debbie Walsh said in a press release.
Women on the ballot are setting records in other ways, too. An unprecedented 80 women of color were nominated in U.S. House primaries this year, according to CAWP data, up from the previous record of 55 that was set in 2016. Women of color make up just over a third of all female nominees this year. Those results have created the potential for a cascade of barrier-breaking wins come November.
New Mexico’s Deb Haaland, a Democrat, is poised to become the first Native American woman in Congress (another Native American woman, Democrat Sharice Davids, is on the ballot in Kansas). And voters in Michigan and Minnesota are set to elect the first two Muslim women to the House, Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Several other states, including Massachusetts and Texas, will likely see a woman of color join their congressional delegation for the first time ever.
Voters also nominated a record 22 women in U.S. Senate races this year. Three states — Arizona, Mississippi and Tennessee — are poised to send a woman to the U.S. Senate for the first time.
But one metric that isn’t likely to change is the number of women of color in the Senate. Just one of four minority women in the Senate, Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono, is up for re-election this year. None of the other candidates on the ballot are women of color.