National News

Win or Lose, Tuesday’s Primaries Are a Big Deal for Women

Posted June 5, 2018 11:46 a.m. EDT

In a year that has broken records for the number of women running for office, the primaries in eight states this week might be considered Super Tuesday for female candidates. More of them will appear on ballots for congressional and statewide executive offices than on any other single primary day in 2018 — a total of 122 women.

These women represent 24.3 percent of all major party candidates on Tuesday’s ballots: 31.5 percent of all Democrats and 15.8 percent of all Republicans, according to Gender Watch 2018, a collaboration between the Barbara Lee Family Foundation and the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.

Here are some races and themes to watch:

In New Mexico, More Firsts for Women of Color?

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, in 2012 became the first woman of color elected to Congress from the state. Now she is running against two men for the party’s nomination for governor. If elected, she would be the first Latina Democratic governor in the United States. (The state’s current governor, Susana Martinez, a Republican who is term-limited, was the nation’s first Latina governor.)

In a crowded primary to fill Lujan Grisham’s seat, which represents the area around Albuquerque, Deb Haaland is campaigning to be the first Native American woman in Congress. Haaland, a former state Democratic Party chairwoman and a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, far outpaced her five rivals in the most recent fundraising cycle, with a significant portion of her contributions coming from tribal groups across the country.

In Mississippi, a Rare Opportunity for Republican Women

It’s been a hard year for Republican women. President Donald Trump was elected with the widest gender gap in polling history and the surge among female candidates has been much higher among Democrats, many of whom are campaigning against what they see as the president’s misogyny. Some strategists have advised Republican women to sit this year out.

Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District may be an exception. Half the six candidates in the GOP primary are women. The district is firmly Republican, so whoever wins the primary is heavily favored to win in November. One of the three women, Sally Doty, a two-term state senator, is the only candidate in the race with legislative experience, which may be a plus among voters, although her male rivals have raised far more money.

No woman has ever been elected to Congress from Mississippi — Cindy Hyde-Smith became the first woman to represent the state when she was appointed to replace Sen. Thad Cochran in April and she will run against three men to keep the seat in November. (Her appointment left Vermont as the only state that has never had a female representative in Congress.)

In Alabama, Black Women Are Still Waiting

There’s been a lot of attention on the power of black women voters ever since they overwhelmingly helped elect Doug Jones, a Democrat, in the special election for one of Alabama’s Senate seats in December. (Exit polls showed 98 percent of all black women voted for Jones.)

Now the question is whether black women can succeed as candidates, as well — one reason Stacey Abrams’ recent victory in the Georgia primary for governor attracted so much attention. After Jones’ victory, Glamour anointed Alabama the state to watch, because, it said, the state has more black women running for office than any other. But their count included down-ballot races, below the congressional races and the executive level of governor and attorney general.

In statewide races, there are just three black women running, and they are challenging Republican incumbents, making those races hard to win. The only woman to be elected statewide in Alabama was Lurleen Wallace, for governor in 1966, but she was seen as a surrogate for her husband, Gov. George Wallace, who was term limited. For now, it seems that Alabama is better viewed as a reminder that a high number of women running doesn’t mean a high number of women winning, especially at the top levels.

A Chance for More Women Governors

For all the hurdles faced by women running for Congress this year, women running for governor have pretty good odds Tuesday. Five out of the eight states with primaries have gubernatorial contests and in four of those at least one woman has a shot at winning. (Montana, Mississippi and New Jersey do not have gubernatorial contests.)

In Iowa and Alabama, two female incumbents are up for election; both are Republicans and both were appointed to the office to replace men (a familiar, if sort of last-century, route for women officeholders). Kim Reynolds, the Iowa governor, is running unopposed to hold the office, and two women are in a six-way Democratic primary to face her. In Alabama, Kay Ivey is competing in Tuesday’s primary against three men. On the Democratic side, Sue Bell Cobb is competing against five men.

And in the open race for South Dakota governor, Rep. Kristi Noem is competing against one man for the Republican nomination. If she wins all the way through November, she would be the state’s first woman governor. No women are running on the Democratic side.

The Year of the Woman, but Not in California

California is the one state with a governor’s race and no women leading in it. And female candidates for congressional offices are facing uphill battles. It’s not for a lack of trying: In the open seat in the 49th district, for example, Sara Jacobs, a Democrat, has made an explicit play in her advertisements to end what she portrays as the boys’ club in Congress.

But none of the women running in the most promising Republican districts — those that were won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 — won the endorsement of the state Democratic Party.