The first step toward greater gender parity in politics begins with a higher number of women candidates.
By Christine Coolick, SWE Contributor
The last two U.S. election cycles set records for the number of women running for — and winning — national political offices. And, as filing deadlines close, 2022 is poised to bring another record-setting year for women candidates aiming for the Senate and governors’ offices — though not for the U.S. House.
Whether these women candidates will go on to receive their party’s nomination — and also win their general elections in November — remains to be seen.
“This data is probably one of the clearest measures of success for women in recent cycles, where nonincumbent women have won at higher rates than men and have been responsible for partisan gains in some of the most competitive contests,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. For 50 years, CAWP has conducted scholarly research and tracked data about women’s political participation in the United States.
“We have clearly seen that women are consistently winners — evidence that this electability question that often surrounds them is not consistent with the most recent facts,” said Walsh.
Strong Republican turnout for U.S. House of Representatives
While 2018 and 2020 set records for the number of women candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives, 2022 didn’t continue the streak. At the time of this writing, with 92% of districts filing, women made up 28% of major-party candidates for the House. That includes 579 women candidates — just a tad shy of 2020’s record of 583.
For the Republicans, though, 2022 is a record-setting year, with 259 Republican women candidates filed to run for the House, surpassing the previous record of 227, set in 2020. The Democrats set their record in 2020 with 356 women filing to run. So far this cycle, 320 Democratic women candidates have filed.
Figures cited in this article are accurate at the time of writing — early August 2022.
“This data is probably one of the clearest measures of success for women in recent cycles, where nonincumbent women have won at higher rates than men and have been responsible for partisan gains in some of the most competitive contests.”
– Debbie Walsh, director, Center for American Women and Politics
Growth for both major parties in Senate candidates
With filings complete in all but one Senate contest, women make up 22% of the candidates from major parties. The filings mark a new record for U.S. Senate candidacies, with 70 women filing to run, exceeding the previous record of 60, set in 2020.
This includes 38 Republican women running as candidates for the Senate, which well surpasses the party’s prior record of 23, set in 2020. Democrats, however, have not beaten their 2020 record of 37 women candidates. As of this writing, 32 Democratic women candidates had filed.
Continued growth in gubernatorial races
In contests vying for the state’s highest office, women have also set records as candidates in 2022. Sixty-nine women have filed for gubernatorial races, surpassing the previous record of 61, set in 2018. This includes eight incumbent women running for re-election, 12 women running for open seats, and 18 as challengers who have so far won their primaries.
This sets a record for Republicans at 37 women candidates — almost doubling their previous record of 20 in 2018. But Democrats are well behind their 2018 record of 41, with 32 filed to run as of this writing.
And with many primaries completed so far this election cycle, 20 women have already received a major-party gubernatorial nomination — surpassing the previous record of 16 set in 2018.
This includes former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who won the Republican nomination in Arkansas, where she is highly favored to win the general election. If elected, Huckabee Sanders would be the first elected female governor of Arkansas.
The nomination count also includes New York’s current incumbent, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, J.D., who became the first woman governor of New York when she ascended to the post following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo, J.D. If she wins the general election in November, she will be the first woman to be elected governor of New York.
Another noteworthy gubernatorial election will be Stacey Abrams, J.D., facing off again as the Democratic nominee against Republican incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp. This sure-to-be-contentious election will be a rematch of the 2018 election, where Abrams lost to Kemp by only 1.4 points.
And, notably, in at least 13 states, women are running for both governor and lieutenant governor this year. Never in U.S. history have two women been elected as both governor and lieutenant governor.
“It’s actually quite interesting to then understand the ways in which gender functions really, potentially differently, when you have an all-woman race — how they might be covered differently, how their strategy might be different.”
– Kelly Dittmar, Ph.D., director of research, Center for American Women and Politics
More women vs. women races
As more women choose to run for office — and win their party’s nominations — races where both candidates are women become more common. There will be four gubernatorial races where both major-party candidates are women: in Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, and Oregon. The last time there was a woman vs. woman race for a state governor was 2010, with two races.
“This doesn’t mean that gender is neutralized in those all-woman contests,” said CAWP Director of Research Kelly Dittmar, Ph.D. “It’s actually quite interesting to then understand the ways in which gender functions really, potentially differently, when you have an all-woman race — how they might be covered differently, how their strategy might be different.”
Dr. Dittmar notes that women will point to other demographic characteristics, such as their race or religion, to note how they are different and arguably a better match at representing their constituents.
So far, there are 28 U.S. House elections where both the Republican and Democratic nominees are women. Within the Senate, there is one race where women will face off. In Illinois, incumbent Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Ph.D., is currently favored to win against Republican nominee Kathy Salvi, J.D.
Special election results help set new records
Several special elections to fill vacancies have proved well for women’s representation in politics — especially for the Republican party. A California special election for its 22nd congressional district voted in Republican Connie Conway. Another special election was held in Texas for its 34th district. Republican Mayra Flores won that contest, making her the first Republican Latina elected to Congress from Texas — and the first Mexican-born woman to serve as a member of Congress.
Since Flores was sworn in on June 21, six new records have been set:
- Women in Congress: 147
- Republican women in Congress: 41
- Women in the U.S. House: 123
- Republican women in the U.S. House: 33
- Latinas in Congress: 15
- Latinas in the U.S. House: 14
In another special election, former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin is poised to advance to the Aug. 16 contest for Alaska’s at large congressional district.
Women of color candidates set records in 2022
2022 also marks a record number of Black women filing their candidacies for both the U.S. House and the Senate. In the House, 133 Black women have filed, surpassing 2020’s record of 117. The previous record for the Senate, 13, was well surpassed this election cycle, with 22 Black women filing.
“While many of these women are running in pretty tough contests and multiple are running in races and primary contests against each other, there are obviously potentials for success in ensuring that the next Congress, unlike the current one, is not without any Black women sitting in the U.S. Senate,” said Dr. Dittmar.
Contests to watch include North Carolina, where Democratic candidate Cheri Beasley, J.D., will face off against Trump-endorsed Republican nominee Ted Budd for the open Senate seat. Beasley was the first Black woman to serve as a chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and easily won her party’s nomination. Another race to watch is Florida, where incumbent Marco Rubio will likely run in the general election against Rep. Val Demings — a former police chief who was once seriously considered to be Biden’s running mate.
2022 is also a record-setting year for Black women running for governor. The previous record of six was set in 2018. So far this campaign cycle, 12 Black women had filed. All but one are running as challengers to incumbents — including Abrams. No Black woman has ever served as governor in a U.S. state.
Six Latinas have announced their candidacies for governor in 2022, which doubles the previous record of three. This includes Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, J.D., in New Mexico. It’s also a record-setting year for Latina candidates for the House, with 86 already filed.
And Asian American and Pacific Islander women candidates have set a new record as candidates for governor, with five filed to date.
The effects of reapportionment and redistricting
The 2022 election cycle ushers in complexities for incumbent women in the U.S. House, due to congressional reapportionment and redistricting. The organization FiveThirtyEight tracked redistricting effects and, according to analysis by CAWP, 26 women House incumbents were significantly affected by the redistricting efforts. This includes a district’s partisan lean flipping from one party to another or an incumbent now having to run in the same district as another U.S. House incumbent.
And although record numbers of newly elected women won seats in the U.S. House in both 2018 and 2020, 11 women — 10 Democrats and one Republican — have announced they will not be running for re-election in this cycle. This is not, however, a historic high, and not at a higher rate than their male counterparts.
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