Women candidates hope to turn a wave into a tsunami in 2018

April 13, 2018

Denver Post: Women candidates hope to turn a wave into a tsunami in 2018

By: Diane Carman

One of the best comedy routines in a year of tragic but hilarious political humor has got to be Jena Friedman’s riff on the Conan O’Brien show on the emergence of Nazis as a potent political force in America since the 2016 election.

She insists that nonviolent action is the best way to respond to the legions of emboldened Nazis in our midst, and suggests that if we want to marginalize them in our culture, we should simply treat them the way we treat women.

If we treat Nazis the way we treat women, Friedman says, “at the very least they will never become president.”

A lot of women laughed at that line, and then they went to work.

In 2016, a record 9,000 women contacted Emily’s List looking for support in their campaigns for public office. In 2018, riding a wave of female empowerment, the number is 34,000.

In Colorado, three powerful women are running for governor: Republican state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and Democrats Cary Kennedy, former state treasurer, and Lieutenant Gov. Donna Lynne. (Kennedy has received the endorsement from Emily’s List.)

In its 142-year history, Colorado has never had a woman governor.

One of the reasons for that and the dearth of women in public office across the country became clear in focus groups and polling after Hillary Clinton lost the election in 2016. The data showed that very few people would vote for a candidate because she was a woman, and a whole lot of people would refuse to vote for a candidate just because she was a woman.

These sexist voters didn’t even realize their bias, according to one poll, which found that most Americans admitted that when women appear ambitious, it rubs them the wrong way.

But in the past year, that dynamic appears to be changing.

Women won 28 seats — a record — in the Virginia House of Delegates last November and Kristen Hernandez of Emily’s List said that is just one sign of “solid, encouraging proof” of the wave building to carry women into public office this year.

Primary election victories in Texas and remarkably successful fundraising campaigns for women candidates across the country provide other evidence that this is not like your mother’s disappointing Year of the Woman in 1992.

The reasons for the surge in Colorado and across the country go beyond merely reacting to the election of Donald Trump, although the outpouring of frustration and determination at the Women’s Marches in 2017 and 2018 confirm that reaction is both enormous and fierce.

Hernandez said that women candidates are getting traction because they are taking popular stands on critically important issues.

“Issues such as health care are running strongly through the candidates’ platforms,” she said. “These are moms and businesswomen who have a lot of first-hand experience dealing with health care and how it affects families. Voters know they understand these issues.”

Choice is another motivating factor, Hernandez said, as women see that the legislation advocated by the predominantly male, Republican-controlled federal government right now undermines a woman’s right to choose and her access to health care in general.

They know full well that the anti-abortion rights movement is fundamentally an anti-woman movement. If it wasn’t, the whole country would embrace Colorado’s wildly successful experiment in creating access to contraception that reduced teen abortions by 64 percent.

Women are talking about education in ways that focus on meeting the needs of children, not just demonizing teachers. They talk about pay equity and jobs for laid-off retail workers, not just for coal miners. They talk about clean air, so families don’t have to worry about their kids growing up with asthma and increased chances for heart disease and cancer.

Hernandez said Emily’s List and other organizations are fully engaged in the 2018 campaigns, training candidates and getting the word out, but the possibilities for 2020 loom large.

“We’d love to see a woman candidate for president in 2020,” she said.