In 2018, 102 women won their House races, setting a new record. And in 2020, that record could well be broken again.
That’s thanks to a surge of primary wins by Democratic women of color like Candace Valenzuela, who could be elected the first Afro-Latina member of Congress this fall, and a huge uptick in victories by Republican women, many of whom were motivated to run after seeing the “blue wave” during the midterms.
2018 “was very much the year of the women on the left. If they can do it, so can we,” Olivia Perez-Cubas, a spokesperson for the Republican action fund Winning for Women, previously told Vox.
In the more than 30 states that have held primaries so far, more women have already secured their party’s House nominations than did last cycle.
As of earlier this week, 243 women had won House primaries this year, including 169 Democrats and 74 Republicans, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. That’s outpacing the 2018 results, when 196 women — 152 Democrats and 44 Republicans — won after the same states had voted. (These numbers don’t include the updated figures from the most recent August 11 primaries or runoffs.)
This data indicates that more women could win seats in the House this cycle than in 2018, according to Rutgers political science professor Kelly Dittmar.
“It seems likely but not guaranteed,” she tells Vox, adding that specific matchups in 2020 will be important to watch. For example, many of the Democratic women who won battleground districts in 2018 are also among those who are most vulnerable this cycle. And a record number of districts will see races with women candidates on both sides of the aisle, which is notable in itself but could mean that the number of women in the House won’t go up as much.
Still, the sustained number of women candidates is significant. Thus far, 583 women have filed to run for a House seat in total, compared to 476 who did the same in 2018. And there’s been a major surge in the number of women of color running this cycle. In 2020, 248 women of color have filed as candidates, an increase from the 167 who ran during the midterms, according to CAWP.
In 2018, “I saw women who looked like their communities, who acted like their communities stepping in to lead, and that empowered me,” says Valenzuela, who’s running as the Democratic House nominee in Texas’s 24th Congressional District.
This year’s gains indicate that 2018, which some dubbed the “Year of the Woman,” was no isolated spike. The fact that even more women are running this year — including on the Republican side — marks a continuation of the energy that emerged during the midterms, and suggests that it’s here to stay.
This year, there have been gains in women candidates on both sides of the aisle
Both Democratic and Republican women are running in record numbers in 2020, a key difference from last cycle, when the momentum was significantly skewed. In 2018, while Democrats saw their numbers go from 64 to 89 women in the House, Republican women actually saw their numbers decline, from 23 to 13.
This year, however, Republicans have seen an uptick in women running — and winning their primaries. Altogether, 227 GOP women have filed to run, versus the 120 who did in the midterms, a party record.
The shift has been driven by a couple of factors, including significant investment in recruitment by groups such as VIEW Pac, E-PAC, and Winning for Women, some of which mobilized further in the wake of Republicans’ disastrous midterms showing.
As Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) put it, the party was facing a “crisis level of Republican women in Congress” following the 2018 election. Additionally, there’s been GOP women motivated to declare their candidacies after seeing how successful Democrats were during the midterms.
Republican women have said, too, that they don’t feel their perspectives are fully represented by the party at this moment. For some, that includes pushback toward President Trump, while for others, it includes an effort to run in order to support his policies.
Valerie Ramirez Mukherjee, an investor running in Illinois’s 10th Congressional District, thinks the party could be more ideologically inclusive. “We can have a variety of voices. I’m a moderate Republican. Now is a chance for us to rebuild,” she told Vox. And Vennia Francois, a candidate in Florida’s 10th Congressional District, emphasized that she’s running, in part, to promote more bipartisanship.
Compared to 2018, when 44 Republican women had won by this point in the primary, 74 women have advanced this cycle, as of earlier this week, including Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Iowa, Nancy Mace in South Carolina, and Michelle Steel in California.
These wins are a significant sign of the progress Republican women have made in the primaries — a contest in the election cycle that’s often stymied candidates due to a lack of infrastructural support. But, as CNN reports, many of these candidates are set to face tough general election races and unlikely to get elected to Congress.
Still, it’s important that the GOP maintain and increase its focus on growing representation for Congress to ultimately achieve gender equity. “If there are going to be significant gains, a prerequisite is that both parties are going to have to be fielding female candidates,” says University of Virginia political science professor Jennifer Lawless.
A record number of women of color are running for the House
Across party lines, a record number of women of color are running for the House.
In 2020, both Democrats and Republicans are seeing a more diverse pool of women filing for these positions, a nearly 50 percent increase from the number of women of color who did in 2018. Democrats, however, still far surpass Republicans on this front, with 162 Democratic women of color filing to run, compared to 86 who did on the GOP side.
Based on how candidates self-identify, CAWP found there are a record number of Black, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Native American women who are running for the House this year.
“2020 is already the year of women of color,” Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People, told Vox. “We are on the front lines defending democracy and fighting for justice in the face of the immense challenges during the pandemic to our collective physical, mental, and economic health.”
The records this year are likely influenced by the gains that women of color made in 2018: That year, Reps. Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids became the first Native American women elected to Congress, and Reps. Jahana Hayes and Ayanna Pressley were the first Black women from their states elected to Congress.
Congress is still very far from gender parity, but these steady gains represent key increases
Despite the wins in 2018, congressional numbers on gender parity are unfortunately still quite dismal — today, about 23 percent of the House is composed of women.
Recent victories, though, mark steady progress: Between 2016 and 2018, the number of women in the House increased by nearly 20 percent, from 87 to 102.
And while many of this year’s candidates won’t be elected to Congress, they’re still making other notable inroads: Even if they lose, these candidates have now established stronger infrastructure for another campaign down the line and helped further normalize women’s candidacies for these roles.
“As more women run, more women get interested in politics and think it’s a plausible path for them,” Notre Dame political science professor Christina Wolbrecht told Vox in 2018. The presence of women — as both candidates and elected officials — could well have a multiplier effect that further increases the number of women who seek office in the future.
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