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Stacey Abrams among record number of women running for office

May 29, 2018

Liberal Democratic women won high-profile battles in party primaries last week, stoking anticipation of another year of the female candidate this time boosted by a wave of anti-Trump sentiment.

Stacey Abrams, who won a primary in Georgia, became the first black woman from either party to be nominated for a governor’s seat. And women won a hotly contested House primary in Kentucky, thrilling the party’s left wing, and emerged the nominees from several House runoff primaries in Texas.

Sixteen months after women marched on Washington to show their displeasure with the prospect of a President Trump, they’re now flexing their political muscles and signing up in record numbers to run for office.

Nearly 400 women already have filed to run as candidates for the House this year, and 75 others are likely to jump in, according to a tally from Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. About three-quarters of them are Democrats.

More than 70 already have won their primaries and will be on the ballot in November, including 62 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

“It gives me tremendous hope,” said Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer who is running for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District.

She said women like her who have strong public service resumes but previously wouldn’t have run have gotten “a bit of a jolt” and are moving from the sidelines to the center of the political conversation in Washington.

That jolt, in many cases, was the election of Mr. Trump, compounding long-held frustration over the women’s underrepresentation in Congress.

“I absolutely think the 2016 election was a major motivator for me, as it was for so many people,” Mrs. Spanberger said.

Deborah Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, said she doubts the country would be seeing record numbers of women running for federal office had Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or one of the other GOP candidates such as Jeb Bush had emerged the victor.

“I think what we are looking at is the potential for long-term change,” she said, adding that the challenge will be for women who have gotten involved to stay engaged as candidates, donors or activists.

Ms. Walsh also said much of the story will be written later this year: “I don’t like to be the wet blanket, but the next challenge is the general election where they are running against entrenched incumbents.”

For now, though, momentum is behind the year of the female candidate.

Women won 10 of the 32 Democratic House primaries and two of the 29 GOP races last week, according to Gender Watch 2018, a nonpartisan election tracker.

A week earlier, eight women seven of them Democrats won nomination contests in Pennsylvania, which has sent an all-male congressional delegation to Washington since 2015.

“This is a huge moment in history and it looks like it is not fading,” said G. Terry Madonna, professor of public affairs and director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. “There are just more women filing to run as Democrats than Republican women who are filing to run.”

While both parties are offering female candidates, the heavy action is on the Democratic side just as it is with women already in Congress, where 82 of the 122 woman are in the minority party.

At least three of those women Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California are thought to be considering 2020 presidential bids.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan found himself earlier this month having to defend his party’s lack of parity with Democrats when it comes to female candidates.

But the Wisconsin Republican pointed to Carol Miller, who won the Republican Party’s nomination for a House seat in West Virginia, calling her “a very impressive woman.” Mr. Ryan also pointed to new Rep. Debbie Lesko, who won a special election this month to fill a seat from Arizona.

“We’ve got some very impressive women who’s just arrived, and/or going to be arriving, so we’re very excited about them,” he said.

At the Republican National Committee run by a woman, Ronna Romney McDaniel spokeswoman Blair Ellis said the GOP has a deep bench of female candidates.

Yet women voters are drifting away from Republicans.

A Pew Research survey from March found that 56 percent of women identify as Democrats, up 4 percentage points since 2015. Men, by contrast, break Republican 48 percent to 44 percent a rate that’s comparable to that in 2014.

Among millennial women, the gap was wider, with 70 percent identifying with the Democratic Party, compared to 56 percent four years ago.

Kim Drew Wright, co-founder of the Liberal Women of Chesterfield County, Virginia, said the choice for women after Mr. Trump’s election was “either cry over your keyboards or stand up and get involved.”

“Some of us started groups,” Ms. Wright said. “Some of us ran for office. Some of us just found the courage to put a Democratic candidate’s sign in our yard, thinking we were surrounded by Republicans until our lonely blue sign sprouted others down the street on neighbors’ lawns and we realized there were more of us than we had thought.”

Jane Kleeb, a member of the Democratic National Committee from Nebraska, where Kara Eastman won a congressional primary this month and the majority of the candidates running atop their ticket are women, said the candidates today are building on gains women made over the last decade.

But she said Mrs. Clinton’s defeat in 2016 was still a watershed moment.

“Women all saw one of the most qualified candidates get taken down by the right wing because she is a woman,” Mrs. Kleeb said. “Tell me a man at Clinton’s level that the right wing treated with such hatred over 20 years.”