Female Candidates in the Midterm Elections: A Lasting Trend
With days until the 2018 midterm elections, there have been a myriad of stories dominating the headlines. Democrats are focusing their messaging on protecting the healthcare of millions of Americans and the performance of President Donald Trump as they attempt to wrest control the House of Representatives from their Republican counterparts. The Republicans are hoping to ride the wave of the strong economy to persuade voters to swing red in the elections. Although the trend of the President’s party losing its majority in Congress in the midterm elections looms over this election cycle, another important trend is becoming prominent- and it is one that is here to stay.
The 2018 midterm elections have seen a historic rise in the number of female candidates up for election in the House and Senate; 256 women are on the Congressional ballot in the midterms, with 197 Democrats overshadowing 59 Republicans and 222 candidates for the House stacking up against 34 Senatorial candidates. These 256 women broke a mark set just two years earlier, when 185 women ran for Congress. However, this is not the first explosion of female candidates in recent memory. Time Magazine dubbed 1992 “The Year of the Woman”, after a group of women inspired by the handling of the 1991 Anita Hill hearing by the all-male Judiciary Committee ran and got elected to the Senate. They increased the number of female Senators from 2 to 6.
The groundbreaking achievements these female candidates are making over decades old obstacles also makes this group of women historic. From gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (D-GA) aiming to become America’s first black female governor to Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), set to be the first Muslim elected to Congress, the female election seekers have come from incredibly diverse backgrounds. Women make up just 20% of the 115th Congress’ 535 members, while 81% of those 535 members are white. Following the 2018 elections, those numbers could be extremely different, as this could be the year that members of these underrepresented groups finally make their voices heard.
Liuba Grechen Shirley is one of those female candidates whose background exemplifies an unlikeliness to run for office. A mom of two from Long Island, New York, she grew up with a single mother who was a teacher to make ends meet. Before running for office she worked in global economic empowerment for nonprofits. Running for Congress was never something Liuba considered, especially with two kids and student loans to repay. After starting a local activist group called New York’s 2nd District Democrats following the 2016 election, Liuba reached out to their Congressman, Peter King (R-NY), to hold a town hall with constituents. He declined the invitation and responded by telling her “town halls diminish democracy.” This incensed Liuba, as she felt that town halls were the epitome of democracy, not the antithesis. Since using that frustration as motivation to begin her run against King, her grassroots campaign has mounted the greatest challenge King has seen in his nearly 26 years in Congress. Liuba has significantly outraised any other challenger to King in any election cycle, and the political statistics outlet FiveThirtyEight has moved her race from the “solid Republican” category to “likely Republican.”
Her impressive run has also had implications on elections in the future. The FEC approved her request in May to use campaign funds for childcare, which allows Liuba to spend more time on the campaign and frees up her mother from watching her kids after work. This decision received universal support and praise from noteworthy figures across political spectrum, including Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wrote a letter of support to the FEC before they announced their decision. This landmark decision will likely encourage more mothers in the future to run for office, as they can ensure their kids are being taken care of while also being able to spend enough time on their arduous campaigns.
Liuba is just one of many women shattering their own glass ceilings across the country. The youngest ever Congresswoman, first Native American Congresswoman, first Muslim Congresswoman, and more could all be elected once the dust settles after the November 6th election. Considering the strength and success of movements like #MeToo and the Women’s March, it comes as no surprise that 2018 could be the year women finally take Congress a few steps closer towards achieving gender parity. Like the women elected in 1992, these women are not going away anytime soon. The female candidates in this year’s midterms are laying the foundation and blazing the trail for future women to join their ranks and achieve great things. Therefore 2018 will not be remembered as the oft used headline “The Year of the Woman,” but as one of many years in which women will be reaching previously unthinkable heights in the realm of politics.