One could scarcely follow the primary elections across eight states this week without hearing Chaka Khan in our heads: “I’m every woman, it’s all in me // I can read your thoughts right now.” The female candidates who rocked the ballot box on Tuesday in states ranging from Iowa to New Mexico, from California to South Dakota to Alabama certainly demonstrated they know what voters want. In short, the women won the week.
Of the 117 women who competed in statewide and congressional primary elections this week fully half – at least 59 candidates in the races called so far – are moving on to the November election. That’s a stunning statistic that bodes well for the eye-popping 661 women candidates who have have thrown their hats into the ring for federal and statewide races for the 2018 cycle. In a year when both major political parties are jockeying for control of Congress, it’s a good sign for women Democrats in particular, who outnumber Republican women candidates for the U.S. House or Senate by a 3:1 ratio according to data culled by Rutger University’s Center for American Women and Politics.
In Iowa alone, we are on track to see the first woman ever to represent the Hawkeye State on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday night, 29 year-old wunderkind Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) and small business owner Cindy Axne (IA-03) beat out their male Democratic opponents to advance to the general election in their respective districts. Both women won their races by wide margins – part of a record-breaking cohort of women running for office in Iowa – and now they have a shot at representing the state’s two largest metropolitan regions. For a state that has traditionally set the pace for the presidential election, this seismic shift toward women leaders speaks volumes about the larger trends we’re seeing nationwide, where continued rage against Donald Trump, empowerment by the #MeToo movement, and an overall frustrated female electorate could result in the biggest gender power play in U.S. history.
Meanwhile, in New Mexico, two victories set the stage for a number of potential firsts for women of color. Michelle Lujan Grisham took the Democratic nomination for for governor, putting her in contention to be the first Latina Democratic governor nationally and her state’s first Democratic woman governor. Longtime politico and former Lieutenant Governor Deb Haaland won her Democratic primary making it highly likely she will become the first Native American elected to Congress as she moves forward in the left-leaning 1st congressional district. Haaland’s campaign has been unapologetically progressive, touting diversity and inclusion, women’s rights, and LGBTQ issues in its core campaign messaging – a victory for Haaland would provide a strong voice on these issues both in Washington, DC and in a state that is typically seen as a critical presidential battleground.
And women candidates are continuing to make gains in unprecedented ways this election season on the Republican side of the ledger as well. GOP gubernatorial candidates Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, and Kay Ivey of Alabama proved they have the mettle and the support to move ahead to the general election. In California, Young Kim won the nomination in retiring GOP Representative Ed Royce’s district (CA-39), putting her on the path to becoming the first Korean-American woman in Congress if she is elected this fall. While their campaigns aren’t driven by the Resistance Movement or the anti-Trump fervor that has fueled the entrée of so many women into Democratic politics this year, their achievements similarly mark a meaningful challenge to the patriarchy that could have a lasting impact for future generations.
All in all, Tuesday’s victories are just the latest sign that the wave of women running for public office this year will likely make landfall in their state capitols and in Washington, DC thanks not only to the volume of interest but to the quality of the candidates themselves. Last month, military veterans Amy McGrath (KY-08) and Gina Ortiz-Jones (TX-23) swept their respective primaries and are now looking ahead to big fights against their male counterparts in the GOP. It will be an uphill battle for both, but the fact they are in the hunt says everything about how hard women have fought and how far they have come in a single, Trump-driven electoral cycle.
Which brings us right back to Chaka Khan: “I’m every woman, it’s all in me // Anything you want done baby, I do it naturally.” Now that’s something to sing about.