Women candidates set nationwide records

Women candidates set nationwide records
© Getty Images

More women have won major party primaries for offices up and down the ballot than in any other year in American history, setting up a midterm election likely to be defined by sky-high energy among female voters across the country.

On Thursday, New York voters guaranteed the state’s next lieutenant governor will be a woman. Democrats nominated incumbent Kathy Hochul (D), while Republicans picked former Rye City Councilwoman Julie Killian (R), who ran unopposed.


Democrats also nominated a woman, New York public advocate Letitia James (D), as their candidate for attorney general. She begins the general election sprint as the heavy favorite over attorney Keith Wofford, the GOP and Conservative Party nominee.

And several women running for state Senate seats upset Democratic incumbents who were members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of centrists who had sided with Republicans to give the GOP control of the state Senate. Sens. Jose Peralta, Jeffrey Klein and David Valesky, all members of the conference, lost their Democratic primaries to women.

The story in New York has played out across the country in the months since the primary season began back in March. More women will be on the ballot this year as major party nominees than ever before.

“The trigger that launched this juggernaut that we’ve been seeing is the election of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE,” said Deborah Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “This is a year when voters are looking for new voices and new faces, and for change.”

Walsh said women who were shocked by Trump’s election channeled their energy into running themselves.

“If they wanted to have elected officials who looked like them and sounded like them, they needed to be the candidate,” Walsh said.

In the battle for control of the Senate, Democrats and Republicans nominated 22 women to run for office. The previous record high was 18 female nominees, back in 2012.

An unprecedented six U.S. Senate contests will feature women as both major-party nominees. The marquee matchup is in Arizona, where Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySchumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up GOP group launches million ad campaign pressing Kelly on filibuster Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (R) are running neck and neck. Voters in Minnesota, New York, Nebraska, Washington and Wisconsin will also see two women running against one another.

The fight for control of the House will almost certainly be determined by the successes or failures of the huge number of women running this year, especially on the Democratic side. Democrats nominated 182 female candidates, while Republicans nominated 53 — both new highs, after the 2016 cycle.

Seventy-one of the 84 women in Congress are running for reelection. Democrats and Republicans nominated a total of 47 women in 40 open-seat districts, meaning it is almost certain that the next Congress will see a new record number of women taking the oath of office in January.

Walsh said women often represent change candidates, simply because politics is so often dominated by men. She pointed to New York and Massachusetts, where longtime Reps. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Michael CapuanoMichael (Mike) Everett CapuanoBottom line Hillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy MORE (D-Mass.) lost their primaries to challengers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, respectively.

New York voters opted to stick with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) over progressive activist and actor Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primary, but the number of women who have won major party nominations for governor still set a record high at 16.

Four women are running for reelection as incumbent governors, including Iowa’s Kim Reynolds (R), Alabama’s Kay Ivey (R), Oregon’s Kate Brown (D) and Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo (D). 

Rep. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamNew Mexico launching vaccine sweepstakes with M in prizes The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Biden vows to get 'more aggressive' on lifestyle benefits of vaccines MORE (D-N.M.), Maine Attorney General Janet Mills (D) and former Michigan state Rep. Gretchen Whitmer (D) — all Democratic nominees for governor in their home states — are polling ahead of or even with Republicans in races where incumbents are retiring.

Other Democratic women, like former Georgia state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D), former New Hampshire state Sen. Molly Kelly (D) and Kansas state Sen. Laura Kelly (D), face longer odds, though none of those three are considered long shots.

On the Republican side, Rep. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemSouth Dakota Gov. Noem says she doesn't plan to increase vaccine messaging Republican governors revolt against CDC mask guidance Western US airports face jet fuel shortage MORE (R) is the heavy favorite to become the first woman elected South Dakota’s governor. 

Even at the local level, women are blowing old records out of the water. Democrats and Republicans have nominated at least 3,260 women in the 46 states that hold state legislative elections this year, pending final tallies in a few states where races remain to be called.

The previous record, set in 2016, was 2,649 female nominees.