MORE WOMEN ARE RUNNING — AND WINNING — THIS ELECTION SEASON: A PROBE INTO THE WAVE OF MIDTERM’S FEMALE CANDIDATES
By Bailey Brann
Will 2018 really turn out to be the “Year of the Woman?”
A record number of women are running for public office this year, with many loosely referring to the upcoming elections as the “Pink Wave.” Stephanie Schriock, the President of Emily’s List — an American political action committee that aims to help elect Democratic pro-choice female candidates to office — deemed this change unlike “anything ever seen before.”
This unprecedented surge of female candidates is even corroborated by the Center for American Women and Politics, which reported that over 50 women filed to run for Senate this cycle, 450 for the House of Representatives, 60 for governor, and hundreds more in down-ballot races across the nation. This means more than twice as many women are running for Congress this year compared with 2016.
Still, this “Pink Wave” is beginning to blend with the anticipated “Blue Wave,” or the idea that Democrats will sweep this year’s midterm elections and officially take back the House. In fact, more than three out of four of the female primary winners are Democrats, who have been more likely to run than Republican women in the past.
This past may have to do with the influence of groups like the aforementioned Emily’s List, which has constructed an infrastructure to recruit female candidates and help get them elected. While Republicans do have similar groups, they don’t possess the same weight and financial support that Democratic PACs have for women.
Nearly a third of all female candidates are incumbents, and a fifth are running for open seats, which tend to be easier to compete for than ones held by incumbents. Still, almost half of the female candidates will run against an incumbent, who historically almost always win. Nevertheless, in a year of surprising primary upsets from newcomers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, incumbents may not be so safe after all. . .
One such oust was executed by Jahana Hayes. From a childhood fraught with poverty and addiction to a teen pregnancy, Hayes has had an unlikely journey into politics. On August 14, the first-time candidate defied odds by winning the Democratic nomination for Connecticut’s open 5th Congressional District seat and defeating the party-endorsed candidate and veteran politician, Mary Glassman. If elected later in November, Hayes would become Connecticut’s first black Democrat in Congress.
Just like her election campaign, Hayes came from humble beginnings. Her childhood was spent in public housing in Waterbury, Connecticut until her family was evicted while she was in elementary school. Hayes’ mother was an addict for most of her life, and at just sixteen years old, Hayes herself became a teen mother. Still, she persisted and earned her diploma in a program for teen parents in the basement of Waterbury’s city hall. Hayes went on to work three jobs while earning a college degree.
After going on to receive her master’s degree, she decided to return to her hometown high school to teach. She spoke freely with her students about her modest upbringing, piloting new school programs she hoped would give them the resources to overcome their own life challenges. In 2016, Hayes’ endeavors were finally recognized when she was chosen as the National Teacher of the Year, later embarking to Washington to accept the award from President Barack Obama.
Just a little over three months ago, Hayes launched her dubious political campaign “with no money, no network, and no people,” her first time running for public office. Hayes credited her recent success to a dedicated and relentless team of volunteers that included almost 100 of her former students. In fact, her run for Congress proves just how effective grassroot efforts truly can be. “I spent the last two years waiting for someone to step up,” said Hayes. “I wasn’t seeing it, and I just decided I’ll give it a shot.”
So, women really are winning elections. Yet, the question still remains. . . why are so many running? Erin Hartman, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, believes the reason behind this spike remains tricky to pinpoint. Naturally, it is expected that the President's party loses seats in the midterm after a presidential election, so seeing a wave of strong Democratic candidates running isn't surprising, but still exciting. “[It’s] truly exceptional, as well as centered mostly among Democrats,” Hartman said.
Referring to a 2018 Pew Research Study where members of the general public were asked in an open-ended format why they think more women are running for U.S. Congress, Hartman pointed out that a mere nine percent thought it was a result of President Donald Trump. Instead, nearly a quarter of respondents indicated it is because women are ready for change in government, similarly echoing Jahana Hayes’ disappointment in the current system and reason for running. Nonetheless, Hartman concedes that these are survey respondents of the general public, not the candidates themselves; it remains hard to disentangle the Trump effect from the general atmosphere of politics these days.
The political science professor goes on to highlight more from the Pew Research Study, which analyzes the public's response to the changing demographics of our political institutions. She finds it fascinating that most Americans do see this change as a positive one. Interestingly, the percentage of Americans that say they are personally hopeful a woman will be elected in their lifetime has gone up since the 2014 election — among men and women, Democrats, and even slightly among Republicans.
Ultimately, female candidates’ success in the midterm elections will hopefully improve the nation’s miserable record of female representation. Currently, women account for just a fifth of 535 U.S. representatives and senators, as well as only one in four state lawmakers. A mere six of the nation’s 50 governors are female. In the United States though, women comprise slightly more than half the population.
So. . . will 2018 genuinely turn out to be the “Year of the Woman?” With female candidates like Jahana Hayes taking the midterm election season by storm, I can only remain hopeful that women will rightfully take their equal place in public office.
Bailey Brann is the Social Media Director at Tough to Tame, double-majoring in Communication Studies and Economics at UCLA. She enjoys PIXAR short films, people-watching, and hiking.