Across the country, a record number of women are running for the House of Representatives. The spike could lead to an an unprecedented uptick in female members.
Rhode Island, however, won’t be part of the record-shattering surge. Voters hitting the polls there Wednesday will see zero female names on the ballot for the state’s two House seats.
Those figures make Rhode Island the only state in the entire nation where no women are running for the House of Representatives this year, according to the Center for American Women and Politics’ Gender Watch project. Rhode Island doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to electing women to Congress. The state has never elected a female U.S. senator (one woman, Patricia Fontes, is running as a primary challenger to incumbent Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse this year).
Voters there have only sent one woman to the U.S. House ever — and she was first elected more than 35 years ago.
Andrea Dew Steele, president and founder of Emerge America, a group that trains Democratic women to run for office, says the absence of women in the House races shows “we clearly still have a long way to go in Rhode Island, as well as in many states across the country.” But she pointed to women serving and running at the state level, including program graduates, as positive momentum.
“We have to keep pushing this movement forward. It’s so critical to recruit and train Democratic women who can bring long overdue representation at every level of government because women holding political office in any state should no longer be a rarity; it should be expected,” she says.
And, to be sure, there are signs of progress when it comes to gender parity. In 2014, Rhode Island elected Democrat Gina Raimondo as the state’s first female governor. She’s running for another term this year. And local media has reported that while women aren’t running for House, they are running for other offices in droves. A record 29 percent of the candidates for office overall as of June were women, according to an analysis by The Providence Journal.
Rhode Island is one of three states holding primaries this week in the last major flurry of voting before the Nov. 6 general election. Here’s a look at what’s at stake in the two other states heading to the polls, New Hampshire and New York:
New Hampshire’s political landscape is polar opposite to Rhode Island’s when it comes to gender parity. The Granite State has a long tradition of electing women to office. And currently, all four members of its congressional delegation — two U.S. representatives and two U.S. senators — are women.
The balance in the Senate delegation won’t change this year: Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan aren’t up for re-election.
The House is another question. Democratic Rep. Ann McLane Kuster is running unopposed in her primary on Tuesday, but she’ll face a GOP challenger in the swing district in November (one of the seven candidates running to take her on is a woman). And 11 candidates, including three women, are vying for the open seat vacated by retiring Democratic Rep. Carol Shea Porter.
New Hampshire might also have a chance to once again elect a female governor. One woman, former state legislator Molly Kelly, is running in the Democratic primary to challenge incumbent GOP Gov. Chris Sununu. If elected, she would be the fourth female governor in the state’s history, according to CAWP.
Voters in the Empire State return to the polls once again on Thursday to cast ballots for the state legislature statewide executive offices (New York’s federal primaries, including 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s headline-making defeat of a longtime Democratic incumbent, took place back in June).
The marquee race is the no-holds-barred gubernatorial primary battle between incumbent Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and actress and activist Cynthia Nixon. Nixon, of “Sex and the City” fame, is hoping to prove the polls that show her lagging wrong and become the latest female challenger to knock out a male incumbent deeply entrenched in the Democratic establishment. If successful, she’d be New York’s first female governor in history. She’d also be a rare example of a female celebrity winning election to public office.