Women threw themselves into U.S. politics in 2018, driving a surge in women candidates, activism and voting in Tuesday’s midterm elections — and a record number of new female office holders.
We saw it all in our little microcosm of the election — a project called Running Women that began with 15 primary candidates and became 11 for the general election. As of Wednesday morning, the group notched four wins and sustained four losses, while three races hung in limbo and were potentially headed to the courts.
Their results reflected some of the major trends seen around the country this year: victories for Democratic women candidates for the House and governors’ mansions, pitched battles in divided parts of the country, and nailbiter races that could remain undecided and in the spotlight for days or weeks.
The midterms saw record-breaking 49 percent turnout of eligible voters. And at least 118 women are now headed for Congress, out of 257 who ran, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. That’s a solid gain from the 107 serving currently and could go higher, since 20 women are in 15 races that are still too close to call. Meanwhile, nine women won governors races, out of 16 on the ballot. Only six women hold governorships currently.
“The country is ready to elect women of all different backgrounds to office,” says Erin Vilardi, the founder of VoteRunLead, a nonpartisan organization that since 2016 has trained 12,000 women to run for office, local, state and national, and had 200 alums on the ballot around the country. “They ran as they were, and they were rewarded by voters.”
Pushing Into Governors Mansions
Among the Running Women winners was Michelle Lujan Grisham, who handily won her race for governor of New Mexico. The congresswoman and chair of the Hispanic Caucus will become the first Democratic woman of color to lead a state. Women have tended to have a more difficult time winning state executive offices, but other gubernatorial victories were had by Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Laura Kelly in Kansas.
However, Stacey Abrams of Georgia, who would be the nation’s first black woman governor and whose race became a keen national focus, was behind by 1.7 points and braced for a potentially drawn out and nasty legal fight against Republican Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state. With nearly 4 million votes cast, Abrams is roughly 15,000 votes away from a runoff. She is now awaiting the count of roughly 15,000 outstanding votes, some due to machine malfunctions, hurricane-related fallout and other problems at some polling sites Tuesday, her campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said during a press call Wednesday morning. The campaign has launched a major effort to chase down uncounted ballots and is considering all legal options.
“We’re up against an unfair system where our opponent is overseeing his own election,” she said. As secretary of state, Kemp would also oversee any runoff or recount, and Groh-Wargo reiterated a call for him to resign due to the conflict of interest. The campaign said that a lawsuit has been filed by a group called Protect Democracy challenging Kemp’s ability to oversee the current count and any potential recount or runoff.
Abrams’ running mate, business owner Sarah Riggs Amico, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, has not conceded the race either.
Democratic Women Go To Congress
Meanwhile, three Democratic women from our Running Women project won their congressional races on Tuesday and are set to become part of the record-setting number of women in Congress.
They and many other Democratic women — many upset and driven into politics by the election of President Donald Trump — led a parade of victories in U.S. House of Representatives that delivered control of the chamber to the party. The Democrats have promised to put a vigorous check on the president and reinvigorate oversight of his administration.
“We took back the House, and women led the charge,” Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said in a statement Wednesday. “Women made up the overwhelming majority of congressional seats we flipped from red to blue.”
Haley Stevens of Michigan and Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania were among the women who flipped seats previously held by Republicans — though Houlahan was helped by court-administered redistricting of a gerrymandered district. As such they were part of an incoming wave of 27 Democrats (so far, anyway; 17 House races are still undecided) who returned majority control of the House to the Democrats. Their arrival is likely to return Nancy Pelosi to the speakership, the only woman to have ever held that role.
— Chrissy Houlahan (@HoulahanForPa) November 7, 2018
Houlahan, a military veteran and nonprofit founder, won her race against Greg McCauley 59 percent to 41 percent. Stevens beat a female rival, Republican Lena Epstein, 52 percent to 45 percent for a Michigan seat representing an auto industry stronghold outside Detroit that was won by Trump.
“It’s time to put politics aside to deliver for Michigan,” Stevens said in a statement. “I look forward to rolling up my sleeves on Day One to help lower healthcare costs, stand up for our public schools, and protect good-paying, Michigan jobs.”
Epstein walked out of the building where her watch party was held without talking to reporters and did not let any media listen to a speech she gave to her supporters there, according to The Jewish News.
Deb Haaland of New Mexico, who was among a record number of women of color running this year, will become the first Native American woman in Congress, after beating a female Republican opponent, Janice Arnold-Jones, 59 percent to 36 percent.
— Deb Haaland (@Deb4CongressNM) November 7, 2018
Both of the Republican women congressional candidates we were following lost their races — Epstein in Michigan and Kimberlin Brown in Southern California. Brown, a soap opera actress and entrepreneur, lost to a Democratic incumbent, Raul Ruiz, in the Democratic-leaning 36th District, 56 percent to 44 percent.
The women we followed in state-level general election races also had tough nights. Morgan Zegers, a young Republican in conservative Upstate New York, fell short in her bid to join the state Assembly, losing to an incumbent Democratic woman, Carrie Woerner, 55 percent to 43 percent. And Mina Davis, a young Democrat seeking a Nebraska State Senate seat, lost opponent Megan Hunt, 64 percent to 36 percent.
“Unfortunately, this time we came up short. While we worked hard and inspired many, my opponent worked hard as well and ran a hardy campaign. The work doesn’t stop here, and I’m proud of what we have done,” Davis posted on Facebook. “Of course, I don’t know now what is next, but whatever it is, I hope to inspire just as much change and hope.”
Meanwhile, in another nailbiter, Katie Hobbs is trailing her Republican opponent, Steve Gaynor, in the race for Arizona secretary of state by about 3 points, but she has not conceded the election. Some 800,000 ballots statewide have not been counted, including 600,000 in left-leaning Maricopa County, according to data collected by Garrett Archer, senior analyst in the office for Arizona secretary of state.
“The Associated Press has incorrectly called the Secretary of State race in Arizona with a razor-thin margin and hundreds of thousands of ballots remaining to be counted,” her campaign manager, Niles Harris, said in a statement. “Katie Hobbs will not stop until every Arizona citizen’s vote has been counted.”