Women Turn the Tide

November 7, 2018

US News & World Report: Women Turn the Tide

By Susan Milligan

FROM THE U.S. CAPITOL dome to statehouses across the country, women on Tuesday affirmed the confident slogan on a trendy T-shirt: The Future is Female.

Voters will send a historic 100-plus women to Congress, including at least 98 women to the House, an all-time high, and a dozen females to the U.S. Senate. The House number could grow as results come in for close races.

A record five states will have two female U.S. senators, as Nevada's Jacky Rosen joins her Democratic colleague-to-be, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. Tennessee elected its first woman to the Senate, choosing Republican Marsha Blackburn.

Women won nine gubernatorial races, with a 10th, in Georgia, still undecided. Republican Kristi Noem became South Dakota's first female governor, while Janet Mills, a Democrat, is the first woman elected governor of Maine. The trend reached a U.S territory thousands of miles away: Democrat Lou Leon Guerrero became the first woman to be elected governor of Guam.

Females won hundreds of critical races in state governments. Nevada is poised to become the first state in history to have a majority-female chamber of the state legislature, with a female state assembly candidate leading in a close race that could give women 22 of 42 seats in the chamber. And in New York, Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is African-American, will become the state Senate majority leader and the first woman to lead either chamber of New York's legislature.

The results dwarfed the gains during the historic “Year of the Woman” in 1992, which resulted in a then-record 54 women – 7 senators and 47 House members. That year, women – both candidates and voters – were motivated by the Anita Hill hearings, when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed by an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee and heavily male Senate despite Hill's allegations that he sexually harassed her.

This year, a backlash to President Donald Trump fueled women's candidacies and activism, but women were also motivated by an urge to improve their communities and weigh in on such issues as education, health care and gun safety, experts say.

“2018 is so much more than the (new) year of the woman,” Andrea Dew Steele, president and founder of Emerge America, a group that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office, told reporter in a conference call. “It's part of a movement that has been building for years. And we expect the victories we saw last night to continue growing for years to come.”

EMILY's List, a group that works to elect Democratic, pro-abortion rights women to office, heard from tens of thousands of women, after Trump's election, asking about how they cold run. Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning had the group issuing statement after statement congratulating women who were racking up wins.

“What an amazing night! So proud of everyone who ran. These women are going to be incredible,” EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock tweeted in the midst of the women's big night.

Women not only increased their numbers, they provided key victories to Democrats in their successful quest to re-take control of the House. In Virginia, a state where female candidates won a record number of seats in the House of Delegates last year, three women Tuesday night flipped House seats. Pennsylvania had a record eight women on the ballot for House seats and half of them won – a remarkable development for a state that hasn't sent a woman to Washington since 2014.

In Iowa, Democrat Abby Finkenauer also broke the all-male streak, becoming the state's first female elected to the House.

In Minnesota, GOP incumbent Rep. Jason Lewis, who once complained about no longer being able to call women “sluts,” was defeated by his Democratic female challenger, Angie Craig. And in Texas, Democrat Lizzie Fletcher scored a major upset against nine-term GOP Rep. John Culberson, not only growing the Democrats' new majority in the House but giving the party hopes of making inroads in the long ruby-red Lone Star State.

The key to success for women was “run as you are. We weren't trying to fit in a specific mode,” Mallory McMorrow, a Democrat who won a state Senate seat in Michigan, told reporters.

Women also accounted for much of the increased diversity in federal and state elections Tuesday night. New York Democrat Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, 28, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Democrats Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar will be the first Muslim congresswomen. Tlaib, who won in Michigan, is Palestinian-American, while Minnesota's Omar, a former refugee, will be the first Somali-American in Congress.

Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico – both Democrats – will be the first female Native Americans in Congress. Davids is also the first openly LGBT lawmaker Kansas will send to Washington.

In Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley, who won the Democratic primary in an upset for the Cambridge-area seat, became the Bay State's first African-American to be elected to the House.

In New Hampshire, which will have an all-female delegation to Congress, Democrat Chris Pappas will be the state's first LGBT member of Congress. At the state legislative level, where female candidates helped dip both chambers of the state legislature blue, Melanie Levesque became the first African-American elected to the Granite State's Senate. Gerri Cannon, elected to the New Hampshire state House, will become the first openly transgender elected official to serve in the legislature.

In Florida, Anna Eskamani won a state House seat, becoming the first Iranian-American to serve in that state's legislature.

The results suggest women will continue to increase their numbers, advocates say, since there is a pipeline building at lower levels of government, preparing women for runs at high office. Further, the traditional barrier for female representation – that women need to be asked seven times to run before agreeing to do so – is diminishing with the interest of younger women, who do not see inexperience as a reason not to try, activists say.

“It's time,” said A'shanti Gholar, Emerge America's political director. “Women are 51 percent of the population, but not 51 percent of (people in) elected office.” This year, Gholar said, the tide is turning.