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Woman vs. Woman: Another Record Is Set for Midterm Elections

August 17,2018 01:14

“This is not going to turn around in one election cycle,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “I think back to 1992, and we called that 'The Year of the Woman,'” she added. That year was a ...and more »



Senate races with two female candidates

Wisconsin

Tammy
Baldwin
INCUMBENT

Leah
Vukmir

Minnesota

Tina
Smith
INCUMBENT

Karin
Housley

New York

Kristen
Gillibrand
INCUMBENT

Chele
Farley

Washington

Maria
Cantwell
INCUMBENT

Susan
Hutchison

Nebraska

Deb
Fischer
INCUMBENT

Jane
Raybould

Tammy
Baldwin
INCUMBENT

Tina
Smith
INCUMBENT

Kristen
Gillibrand
INCUMBENT

Maria
Cantwell
INCUMBENT

Jane
Raybould

Leah
Vukmir

Karin
Housley

Chele
Farley

Susan
Hutchison

Deb
Fischer
INCUMBENT

Wisconsin

Minnesota

New York

Washington

Nebraska

Tammy
Baldwin
INCUMBENT

Tina
Smith
INCUMBENT

Kristen
Gillibrand
INCUMBENT

Maria
Cantwell
INCUMBENT

Jane
Raybould

Leah
Vukmir

Karin
Housley

Chele
Farley

Susan
Hutchison

Deb
Fischer
INCUMBENT

MILWAUKEE — In this year of record-breaking advances for women running for office, there is nothing especially extraordinary about two more winning their primaries.

But the victories on Tuesday of Leah Vukmir in Wisconsin and Karin Housley in Minnesota — both Republican nominees for the United States Senate in November — shattered a glass ceiling that few people probably realized was about to give.

With their wins, there are now five Senate races this fall that will feature only women as major party candidates.

Most recent election years have had just one or two states in which the nominees were both women. In 2012, the year the record was last set, there were three.

Senate races in which nominees were both women

As of Aug. 15

Five races

One race

As of Aug. 15

Five races

One race

As of Aug. 15

Five races

One race

If one of the two women running in the Republican primary for the Senate in Arizona later this month wins, as polls suggest, there would be six Senate races across the country in which a Democratic and a Republican woman are opposing each other.

Many of the candidates this year are newcomers, who span a wide range: A city councilwoman in Nebraska who has a family grocery store business; a Goldman Sachs-trained banker with an engineering degree from Stanford in New York; a former television news anchor; and state party chair in Washington.

Traditionally, the Senate has not been the most hospitable place for women. Only 23 women currently serve in the 100-person body — and that represents about half the number who have served in its history, 52.

Senate seats held by women
Note: Data shown for every other year.

Only 19 states currently have a female representation in the Senate, and even fewer still are represented by two women, as shown in the map below.

Two female senators

One female senator

Two female senators

One female senator

Still, even with records falling as more women than ever before run, the number who actually make it to the Senate may remain flat — a case of one step forward, one step back.

“This is not going to turn around in one election cycle,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “I think back to 1992, and we called that ‘The Year of the Woman,’” she added. That year was a success, she said, because the number of women elected to Congress doubled. “But it was still only 10 percent of the Congress.”

With more women running against other women, one replaces another. And that limits the overall change on the gender makeup of the Senate. But two female incumbents who are especially vulnerable this year — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri — are both Democrats running against men in states that President Trump won by double digits.

Senator Claire McCaskill (center) speaks during a news conference in the Capitol on July 19. Al Drago for The New York Times

And in Mississippi, the Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to the Senate in April, is in a competitive three-way race against the Democrat Mike Espy and the Republican Chris McDaniel, to serve a full term in the seat vacated by Thad Cochran.

Their defeats would offset wins by women in states where they seem especially well positioned to win, like Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee.

As slow as gender parity is taking, the trajectory has been gradually upward. And it has been a much faster climb for women in the Democratic Party. The number of women who have won major party nominations for Senate this year hit 19, or about 29 percent of all primary winners, on Tuesday — another record. Six of those were Republican women (that was a record, too).

Primary winners in Senate races
Note: Only includes major-party candidates who advanced to the general election. Data shown for every other year. Data for 2018 includes a special general election for a Minnesota Senate seat.

The record number of Republican women who have a shot at being elected to the Senate this year is a curious juxtaposition with the image of their party now that it is headed by President Trump, a man who has such a problematic history with women, and who faced repeated accusations of misconduct.

Ms. Housley, the Minnesota Republican nominee, said in an interview that the environment is certainly more difficult for conservative women this year, given all the activism on the left.

But Ms. Housley, a state senator from suburban Minneapolis, said that she sees herself as something of an ambassador to women who are on the fence about Mr. Trump and the Republican Party. “It's important for them to know that it’s O.K. for a woman to support President Trump,” she said. “Especially being a suburban woman myself, they look at you and go, ‘Wait a second. Here you are a strong woman, serving in politics, and you're still supporting Trump?’”

“They listen,” Ms. Housley added.

Jane Raybould, a Democrat on the Lincoln City Council who won a primary in May to challenge Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska, recalled a story she said has been common as she campaigns across the state. Another woman approached her to tell her she had been to 19 protests in 23 months. “Really?” she remembered asking. “And she said, ‘I’ve never done anything like this in my entire life. I just could not sit on the sidelines anymore.’”

Midterm Elections (2018)

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