Female Democratic nominees are motivated by more than anti-Trump animus

June 6, 2018

The Washington Post: Female Democratic nominees are motivated by more than anti-Trump animus

By Eugene Scott

One of the big takeaways from Tuesday night's primaries is that the momentum women seeking office have shown since the 2016 presidential election continues.

Women have been increasing their presence on the political front lines since 2016, in large part in response to President Trump's election. Here's where women had big wins or moved their candidacies forward on Tuesday:

New Mexico: Deb Haaland is on track to win the Democratic primary for New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, which would put her on track to become the first Native American woman in Congress. Haaland, a former Democratic state party leader, hopes to replace Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), the state's Democratic candidate for governor.

Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat, and Yvette Herrell, a Republican, are both hoping to represent southern New Mexico in Congress. They will face one another in the runoff  to replace Rep. Stevan Pearce, (R-N.M.), the state's only GOP congressional member.

South Dakota: Rep. Kristi L. Noem's (R-S.D.) primary win in the heavily Republican state puts her on the road to becoming the state's first female governor.

Iowa: Two Democrats — Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer — could become the state's first female House members after winning their primaries. Axne's race is said to lean Republican while Finkenauer's is a toss-up, according to Cook Political Report.

While some Republican women recorded primary victories — like Noem and Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), who is in a tough fight to keep her seat in Congress, most of Tuesday night's wins came for female Democrats.

But the idea that liberal women stepping into power was primarily about hostility to Trump is somewhat shortsighted, Symone Sanders, former press secretary for the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), told The Fix. While she credits some of the increased interest in politics from women to the “Trump effect,” she said that many people's understanding of what that means exactly is off.

“Many people say it's anti-Trump. I don't think it's anti-Trump. I think most people say, 'If Donald Trump can run for president and win, clearly I can run too, because I have something to offer.' I think people see an opening and an opportunity. There are so many issues on the board. And I think there are women in many spaces and places across this country who have been working to combat these issues their entire lives and see openings that they can take the work they've been doing in the private sector and put it into action in the public sector.”

Some Democratic groups that help candidates win races have been focused on turning Republican districts Democratic. But Sanders said limiting energy to flipping districts often leaves women — particularly women of color — in areas that are already blue less supported.

Many of the women who won nomination Tuesday are in races that Democrats are expected to win, but they have the potential to bring ideas to the table that previous liberal candidates have not prioritized because of gender, race or other reasons.

Groups like Emily's List, a group that supports liberal female candidates, said supporting candidates advancing issues that matter to female voters is essential regardless of how likely the candidate may already be to win their race — as long as they are committed to liberal ideas.

Christina Reynolds, Emily's List vice president of communications, told The Fix:

“I think Democrats need to continue doing what they've done to get themselves through the primary — speak directly to voters, understand the issues they are facing and tell their stories. These candidates have some really impressive and varied résumés and experiences. They need to keep telling those stories, and Democrats need to continue with the activism we've seen from the very beginning of the Trump administration.”

As long as women continue to put forward ideas that resonate with voters, we will likely continue to see women enjoy victories at the primary polls. All eyes will be on whether this will translate into success in the general election — and to what degree.