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U.S. Senate still elusive despite more women vying for seats

May 26, 2018 GMT

There’s no doubt many more women are running for high office, and particularly this year. In 1970, there was just one female Senate candidate. Today, there are 49 to 54 women running, depending on whether and which third-party candidates are included in the count.

There are 394 women running for the U.S. House and 56, including third-party candidates, in governor’s races as of May 23.

That’s a mostly pre-primary figure, and fewer women will appear on ballots in November. In 2016, a presidential election year, 19 women running for Senate appeared on the ballot in November -- less than 20 percent of the 108 candidates who were on Senate ballots on Election Day.

There are significantly more Democratic women (32) running for the Senate than Republican women (22) in 2018, which is a constant of recent history, except for a few small spikes, all before 1994. The last time there were more Republican than Democratic women running for Senate was in 1994, when five Republican women ran, compared with four Democrats.

In 2018, 107 women hold seats in Congress, 20 percent of the 535 members. Of these women, 78 are Democrats and 29 are Republicans. This is the largest number of women ever representing constituents on Capitol Hill.

Women’s rate of success has varied in the Senate. In 2016, 32 percent of the women who were candidates in the general election won their races. The greatest success for women came in 2012, when 55 percent of female candidates on the ballot on Election Day won Senate seats.

How many of the 54 women currently running for Senate will make it through their primaries? Not all of them.

One hotly contested seat is the Senate race in Arizona, rated by CNN as a tossup for November. There are multiple women running for both the Republican and Democratic nominations in a primary on Aug. 28.

The closest race appears to be on the Republican side, where two of the three main candidates are women. The candidates include notorious former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Rep. Martha McSally and Kelli Ward. The hope among some Republicans is that Arpaio and Ward will split the anti-establishment vote and open a path for McSally as a more moderate nominee.

The most likely Democratic candidate (three of the seven official candidates are women) is Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who has the backing of Emily’s List.

Arizona has never had a woman in the Senate, and McSally told CNN in April that it is about time.

“I think we need more women in office, for sure,” she said. “On the Republican side, I think we have 22 women in the House. I’m the only female veteran woman Republican in the House. We need to represent the diversity of our country, right? The more women we can have running and winning, the better off we’ll be.” This quote was taken before Debbie Lesk of Arizona was elected, making it 23 Republican women in the House.

President Donald Trump won Arizona with 49 percent of the vote in 2016, and Democrats are hoping to make inroads in the state.

There are 33 seats being contested in the Senate and in nine of them, only men are currently running. So women could technically win 24 seats in 2018, but it’s unlikely to happen. In nine of the seats where a woman is running, she would face a male incumbent. However, in 12 seats, a female incumbent senator will be running.

Incumbents have real advantages. Only two of the races featuring female incumbents - Democrat-held seats in Missouri and North Dakota - are rated by CNN as tossups. Of the seats featuring male-only tickets, two seats - Democrat-held seats in Indiana and West Virginia - are rated by CNN as tossups.

But that does not leave too much space for new women to win. Only three seats -Arizona, Tennessee and Utah - are left in which there is no incumbent and women are in the running. There’s a high likelihood of a woman winning in Arizona, where top candidates from both parties are women. There’s a good chance a woman can win in Tennessee, where Rep. Marsha Blackburn is contesting for the GOP primary and likely to face off against former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in November. But there is probably little chance for Democrat Jenny Hill to win the Utah Senate race against her most likely opponent, Mitt Romney. - (CNN)