The secret's out that the 2018 midterm elections are going to be anything but normal. People outside the traditional political establishment, women especially, have turning out at ballot boxes — and on ballot themselves. And just how many women of color running for office in 2018 proves it's already looking to be a historic year.
A new report released by the Center for Women in Politics (CAWP) shows that black women in particular didn't come to play. I spoke with CAWP's Kelly Dittmar about how women of color candidates are faring in the midterms so far.
"If you look at who's won gubernatorial nominations thus far, three of four [female] nominees are women of color, which is unprecedented," Dittmar says. "That's a really notable statistic." One of the wins Dittmar cites is the victory by Georgia's Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams, who, if elected, would become the first black woman governor.
"To me, there is something about the success of these women that indicates at least some shifting perceptions in the electorate. That not only are these women being perceived as qualified and capable, but perhaps there's a perception that they bring something new and different, that they can be that change candidate, and bring something unique to the table to challenge the existing status quo in politics."
According to the CAWP report, among filed women candidates for the House, women of color are 34 percent — on par with their share of the female population at 37 percent. Black women especially, at 16 percent of the female candidates, are outpacing their 13-percent share of women in the nation.
But on the flip side: Women overall still remain underrepresented in the candidate pool, Dittmar says. And women of color are still lagging behind when it comes to the Senate and governorships. Black women make up about 7 percent of the U.S. population overall, yet currently only comprise about 3.6 percent of congressional seats. This is due in part to the fact that women in general, regardless of race, are grossly under-represented in office. In fact, black women are over-represented among women in the House, comprising 21 percent of the women in that chamber. However, black women are nearly absent entirely from the U.S. Senate (Sen. Kamala D. Harris is multiracial), and there's never been a black woman governor, period. So while black women House candidates are actually doing fairly well among their female representatives, women running for Senate and governorship seats still have a long way to go to make up that representation gap.
"We want to get to a place where race or ethnicity is not considered a hurdle they have to overcome or a liability to their candidacy for statewide office," Dittmar says. "Instead, to rethink the way being a woman of color can be a value added, can be an advantage, when trying to appeal to voters."
There are 36 gubernatorial races across the country in this year's midterm elections. At the Congressional level, all 435 House seats, as well as 35 Senate seats, are up for grabs. And with a record number of women running for office in general, this election cycle is already a historic one. That's particularly true for Democrats. In 2018, the number of Democratic women candidates in races went up by more than 126 percent since the 2016 election cycle, far outpacing the 68-percent increase among Democratic candidates overall (men and women together).
Still, Dittmar says the fact that black women are making gains at the state-wide level is a big deal. "When we tell the story of women running in 2018, we have to be looking at and embracing the wholeness and diversity among women," she adds. Victories like Abrams' "might indicate progress in our collective perceptions of who can be or should be leading at the state-wide level. ... At least among Democrats, they've proven they can win."