A prominent elections forecaster just tilted predictions in eight key House races away from male Republican candidates toward female Democratic contenders, seven of whom are challenging incumbent men. It’s another sign that 2018 could be a big year for women in politics, particularly Democratic women.
In a report released Tuesday, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics moved 17 races that he tracks from strongly favoring Republicans closer toward Democrats.
Only one of the 17 seats is currently held by a woman. Two more Republican women, facing male Democratic challengers, are running for seats left open by congressmen who retired. In all, 12 races include a female candidate. Eight of the 17 races moved away from a likely Republican male winner toward a Democratic woman.
The changes don’t mean that Democrats will definitely flip those seats; these are tough Republican districts, but many of these ratings were moved from Lean Republican to Toss-Up, and some Likely Republican-rated districts were moved to Lean Republican.
That’s undeniably good news for Democrats. As Kyle Kondik wrote in his analysis, part of the reason things are looking so favorable for Dems is that as Election Day nears, President Donald Trump is still unpopular, the generic ballot is looking good for Democrats, and there are a whole lot of open seats after a wave of Republican retirements.
“Put it all together, and the Democrats now look like soft favorites to win a House majority with a little more than 100 days to go,” Kondik wrote. “The usual caveats apply: There is time for things to change, and the Democrats capturing the majority is not a slam dunk.”
It’s also great news for women, who were galvanized to run in droves in 2018 in the age of Trump.
Women aren’t just running in record numbers; they’re also winning
The current representation of women and men in Congress is severely lopsided. Women make up less than 20 percent of Congress. Out of 535 total members, there are just 22 women senators and 83 women representatives.
But in the 2018 primaries, female candidates have been outperforming their male counterparts, multiple analyses have found. More than 40 percent of Democratic nominees for the US House of Representatives so far are women, according to an NBC News analysis. Meanwhile, fewer than 10 percent of Republican nominees are women, NBC found.
Put another way, Democratic female candidates are overperforming by about 15 percent in primaries, the Cook Political Report found. In other words, female candidates in 2018 are more likely to defeat male candidates than the other way around.
If this trend continues in the general election, women in the US House could soon outnumber white men — at least on the Democratic side, according to recent data compiled by the lobbying firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas.
Women currently make up about 32.7 percent of the House Democratic caucus, while white men make up about 39.7 percent, according to the data. The number of white Democratic congressmen has been on a steady decline since the 1960s. That, combined with the fact that a record number of women are running for Congress in 2018, could mean that women will outnumber white male House Democrats in 2019.
The majority of women running in the races that Sabato added to his ratings change are Democrats challenging male Republican incumbents. Here’s the full list of 12 close races with women candidates:
- Florida’s 16th Congressional District: Democrat Jan Schneider and David Shapiro will compete in an August 28 primary; the winner will face Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL)
- Iowa’s Third Congressional District: Democrat Cindy Axne vs. Rep. David Young (R-IA)
- Indiana’s Second Congressional District: Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) vs. Democrat Mel Hall
- Indiana’s Ninth Congressional District: Democrat Liz Watson vs. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN)
- Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District: Democrat Amy McGrath vs. Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY)
- Michigan’s Eighth Congressional District: Democrat Elissa Slotkin vs. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI)
- New Mexico’s Second Congressional District (open): Democrat Xochitl Torres Small vs. Republican Yvette Herrell
- Texas’s Seventh Congressional District: Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher vs. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX)
- Texas’s 31st Congressional District: Democrat M.J. Hegar vs. Rep. John Carter (R-TX)
- West Virginia’s Third Congressional District (open): Republican Carol Miller vs. Democrat Richard Ojeda
Sabato calls these predictions his “crystal ball.” But fortunes are no guarantee.