Voters in four states — Pennsylvania, Idaho, Nebraska, and Oregon — are at the polls today for primary elections. Upwards of 500 seats for local and federal office will be up for grabs in these states in November, and of the hundreds of candidates vying to compete in the general election, at least 294 are women, according to a count by Refinery29 of filings in state executive, state legislature, and congressional races.
For a variety of reasons, from the rise of Donald Trump to #MeToo, women are stepping up to lead in unprecedented numbers. “What we are seeing in Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Idaho mirrors what we are seeing across the country. Women are stepping up to run with a sense of urgency to serve their community,” said Amanda Hunter, Communications Director at The Barbara Lee Family Foundation in an email interview with Refinery29.
According to Refinery29’s count, the majority of the women running are Democrats. "If we want more pro-choice Democratic women in office, we need them on the ballot this November; especially in winnable red-to-blue districts where we have the greatest chance of bringing widespread change. That's why primary days like today are so exciting, and so important,” says Alexandra De Luca, press secretary for pro-choice Democratic group, Emily’s List.
The races in Pennsylvania will likely be the most consequential out of the congressional races being decided tonight, since the state will be key for Democrats if they are to take back the U.S. House of Representatives in November. Of the 20 women running in House races in Pennsylvania, 19 of them are Democrats. Most contentious are the three open seats in Republican-held districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016: the 5th, 6th, and 7th districts. Chrissy Houlahan, a Democrat, is running unopposed in the 6th district primary, so she’s already won. She will compete in November against the Republican nominee.
Pearl Kim is the female Republican incumbent in the 5th district. Her Democratic challenger in the general will be decided tonight out of a crowded field of 10 Democrats running for the nomination, five of whom are women, including front-runner Mary Gay Scanlon. Notably, this seat was vacated by Pat Meehan, a Republican, who resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations.
The 7th district’s Democratic primary is really the one to watch. Vox called this race “a three-way ideological showdown among Democrats.” There are six Democrats running but the top-three contenders couldn’t be more different. Crucial to our purposes: The lone woman in the race, Susan Wild, is a lawyer backed by major women’s groups, Emily’s List, and NARAL. She was also the first woman to serve as the solicitor of Allentown. Running against her are two men: a pastor backed by the Bernie Sanders-aligned group, Our Revolution, and a “Trump-friendly” Democrat who is anti-choice and anti-immigrant.
There are also multiple women from both sides of the aisle who are running for Governor in each of the four states. They include Idaho’s Paulette Jordan, a two-term Idaho state legislator and a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, who hopes to be the nation’s first Native-American governor. Jordan’s candidacy is a long-shot since Democrats’ are unlikely to win in the red state in November. Nonetheless, Jordan sees no other choice but to run. As she told CNN: “The opportunity for women is now. The President is divisive. Women know we can bring the country together. I'm working to defend my state, my people, even as this President is part of spreading hate and fear." In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown is expected to coast to victory tonight in her primary, which means she’ll likely remain Oregon’s governor in November.
In Nebraska, this year’s women candidates for governor, Democrat Vanessa Ward and Republican Krystal Gabel, and are the only female major party candidates for governor in the past two decades, according to Kelly Dittmar, PhD, an assistant research professor at Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University.
According to our count, a large majority of women on the ballot today (a whopping 241) are running for either state house or state senate. While the majority of national attention will understandably be devoted to national or state executive races, the number of women seeking local office should not be underestimated in terms of importance.
“Having women represented at the state legislator level is critical. In many states, only a small percentage of state legislators are women. Instead of running for school board or a local office, we are seeing first-time women candidates jumping into races for State House Representative and State Senate,” Hunter says. “Our research shows voters are open to supporting women candidates who haven’t previously held office if they can highlight their accomplishments within the community.”
“These chambers are our pipeline of future senators, representatives, and governors,” De Luca adds. “In 2018 alone, Emily's List is working in more than 1,200 state and local races across the country. We know how critical these seats are."