Stop Calling Black Women “Long-Shot Candidates”

Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer for AG.

It’s no secret that in 2018, women made history. A record-breaking 125 women were elected to the U.S. House and Senate, and many women who were previously considered “long-shot candidates” blew past the competition and became “firsts” in their own right. 

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At the heart of post-election analysis, a critical narrative emerged about who should run for office and why. As it turns out, women, especially women of color, were more than qualified to win in even the most unlikely races, such as in traditionally Republican districts. Newly released research has shown that women candidates were just as likely to win their races as their white male counterparts during last year’s midterms.  

Now, just weeks before critically important elections all over the country, the old narrative about what type of candidate can run successful campaigns and win tough elections has resurfaced. This bias is particularly apparent in the Mississippi race for attorney general.

In the Deep South, where reproductive rights are under attack and voting rights are in jeopardy, Jennifer Riley Collins, the Democratic candidate for Attorney General of Mississippi, is running to counteract harmful policies and usher in a new era of representation. Riley Collins is a decorated army veteran, civil rights attorney, former executive director of the ACLU, and mother of three. She would also be the first African-American to hold statewide office since the Reconstruction Era, and the first African-American woman to do so ever. Yet, Riley Collins is facing a lack of support and media attention in the race. 

In the past, the Democratic Party has too often conceded political power in Southern states citing their elections as "unwinnable." But in Mississippi, Democrats have already proven that they can win. In fact, a Democrat recently held the office of attorney general. Therefore, the historic nature of Riley Collins’ race for office and her people-centered, grassroots campaign should attract donors and media attention alike. However, recent fundraising reports have shown that Democratic donors have raised just a small fraction of resources when compared to the Republican opponent. As the Party continues to build on the energy of the 2018 election and increase the number of Democrats holding key offices across the country, we must pay attention to races like hers and states like Mississippi. 

Riley Collins’ candidacy is set up to follow the successful campaigns of dozens of other women over the past few years, including attorney general races during last year’s midterms. Tish James was sworn in as New York’s 67th attorney general, becoming the first African-American woman to hold statewide office in New York. In Michigan, Attorney General Dana Nessel made history as the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to statewide office. In Delaware, Kathy Jennings became just the second woman to ever hold the office of attorney general in the state.  This level of success is certainly not unique as we’ve seen women break these barriers up and down the ballot all across the country, especially when women candidates are given the financial and other support needed to run a strong race. 

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In 2017, women helped to electrify elections in the Virginia House of Delegates when voters elected the first Latinas and the first Asian-American women to the chamber, as well as the first transgender woman to serve in any state legislature in the country.  Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver became the first woman of color to serve in statewide office in New Jersey, and Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan became the highest-ranking Native American woman elected to executive office in the U.S.

Last year, Congresswoman Lucy McBath won her race for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, which hadn’t been represented by a Democrat since 1979. And of course, there’s Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, who famously ran as the only woman and the only woman of color in her primary and defeated six white men before being elected to Congress. 

Time and time again, women have proven that they can win no matter where they run. We may be in difficult political times, but perhaps this is the exact setting to win by being bold. If Democrats are truly to change the face of politics, it’s past time we stop thinking of our best candidates as “long-shots.” This is exactly why we should start paying more attention to women like Riley Collins.

A’shanti F. Gholar serves as the national political director for Emerge, the nation's premier organization dedicated to recruiting and training Democratic women to run for office. The views expressed here are her own.

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