In the Year of the Woman, These Are the Races to Watch
(Bloomberg) -- A record number of women are making bids for federal and statewide offices in the 2018 elections. Although men will remain the predominant force U.S. politics, the sheer number of female candidates running will likely lead to greater representation for women in government after the November vote. Here are some races to watch.
Senate Hopefuls Face Off in Top State for Women in Office
Arizona has one of the best records in the U.S. for electing women to political office: 40 percent of its state legislators are women, tied for first among the 50 states, and it’s the only state to have ever had four women serve as governor, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
The state’s voters now are poised to send a woman to the U.S. Senate to replace retiring Republican Jeff Flake.
The likely Democratic nominee is Representative Kyrsten Sinema, who has been one of the moderates among House Democrats during three terms representing Tempe and parts of Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler and Scottsdale.
Sinema voted against Representative Nancy Pelosi as the party’s House leader, and she voted with the Republican majority on issues including financial regulations and amending the Constitution to require a balanced budget.
“I bring people together, because that’s how you get stuff done,” she said in her first television ad for her Senate campaign, which also featured her brother, a police officer and Marine veteran.
The August Republican primary is more competitive and the two top candidates are women, Representative Martha McSally and former state legislator Kelli Ward.
The GOP establishment prefers McSally, who was easily re-elected in 2016 in a Tucson-area district that backed Democrat Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Her early donors include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican women who serve in that chamber.
McSally is a retired Air Force colonel and the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat.
“After taking on terrorists in combat, the liberals in the Senate won’t scare me one bit,” she said in a TV ad.
Ward has criticized McConnell and Flake while accusing McSally of being insufficiently loyal to Trump. Ward ran for the Senate in 2016, losing a primary challenge to Senator John McCain by 11 percentage points. A super-political action committee aligned with McConnell aired anti-Ward digital ads last sumer.
The Republican primary also includes Joe Arpaio, a former county sheriff who was convicted of criminal contempt of court and pardoned by Trump in 2017.
There are two other races in Arizona this year that will be contests between two women. In McSally’s district, Republican women’s groups are promoting Lea Marquez Peterson, the chief executive officer of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, against Democratic former Representative Ann Kirkpatrick. In the strongly Republican 8th District northwest of Phoenix, Democrat Hiral Tipirneni is seeking a rematch against Republican Debbie Lesko after losing an April special election by just five percentage points.
Republican House Leader in for Challenge
The expanding universe of competitive House races includes eastern Washington’s 5th District, where Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House, is opposed by Democrat Lisa Brown, a former state Senate majority leader and the first Democratic woman to serve in that position.
The district, which includes Spokane, has voted Republican since 1994, when it hosted one of the most consequential upsets in U.S. political history: the defeat of Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley in a Republican “wave” year. In 2016, Trump carried the district by 13 percentage points and McMorris Rodgers beat a lightly funded Democrat by 20 points.
The August primary, in which all the candidates run on one ballot and the top two finishers advance to the November election, should result in a matchup between McMorris Rodgers and Brown.
McMorris Rodgers raised more than $2.7 million for the 2018 campaign through this year’s first quarter, and Brown took in more than $1.25 million, already more than three times what McMorris Rodgers’s 2016 Democratic opponent raised for his entire campaign. No other candidate is close.
McMorris Rodgers, 48, gave birth to all three of her children after entering the House in 2005, making her the first member of Congress in history to deliver multiple babies in office. Her son was born with Down Syndrome, and in a rare break with the House Republican Conference she’s led since 2013, she voted against a GOP bill in February aimed at curbing “abusive” lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Brown, 61, served as chancellor of Washington State University’s Spokane campus after 20 years in the state legislature. Her platform includes expanding Medicare and student-loan relief.
This race has implications for the House Republican leadership roster after the November election. McMorris Rodgers ranks fourth in the GOP hierarchy as chairwoman of the Republican Conference. Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin isn’t seeking re-election, creating a void in the top House position.
Like Arizona, Washington state has a better record than most in electing women to political office: Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell serve in the Senate; four of the state’s 10 House members are women; and 37 percent of state legislators are women, the fifth-highest share among the 50 states.
A Democrat Gets Motivated After 2016
Before Donald Trump’s election as president, Democrat Chrissy Houlahan never contemplated running for Congress.
“I’m honestly kind of an introverted person,” said Houlahan, 50. “But I was really worried about our democratic values and really worried that all the work we had collectively done together would be undone.”
The Stanford-educated engineer, former Air Force Reserve captain and one-time chemistry teacher is viewed as the front-runner in the May 15 Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s 6th District, an affluent suburban area outside Philadelphia.
Given her resume and fundraising success — Houlahan had almost $1.6 million in her campaign account at the end of March — she’s also considered the favorite to fill the seat of Republican Representative Ryan Costello, who isn’t seeking re-election.
The mother of two grown daughters is the sort of candidate the party’s strategists dream about when looking at races in suburban America, where Democrats are aggressively hunting for the 23 seats they now need to overturn the GOP House majority. Well-educated, working-age women like Houlahan often play a pivotal role in such districts.
“This is a pretty brutal process and I always thought it was for other people and other sorts of personalities,” Houlahan said. “It’s a lot about raising the resources needed to have a voice.”
While she wants to see more women in Congress, Houlahan said she also thinks the institution needs more diversity in life experiences and that there are too many “lawyer types” in Washington. “This is about the diversity of all the things people bring to the table,” she said.
Making Healthcare a Part of the Campaign
After over a decade of working as a national security advisor under the Bush and Obama administrations, Elissa Slotkin announced last July that she would run to challenge Republican Representative Mike Bishop in the Lansing, Michigan-area district she grew up in.
Slotkin, 41, said she decided to run because the “tone and tenor” of American politics after the 2016 election was “unbecoming” of the country. The deciding factor, however, was Bishop’s decision to vote for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act last year. Slotkin is one of dozens of Democrats who has made health care, and Republican efforts to repeal the current health care law, a central part of her campaign.
“Health care is very personal, it affects every single person,” she said.
Bishop’s campaign has criticized Slotkin for having spent a large chunk of her professional life outside the district. Slotkin said the attacks are “a perfect symbol of what’s wrong with our politics because I’m proud of what I was doing when I was outside of Michigan,” she said, referring to three tours in Iraq as a CIA Middle East Expert, and her time at the Pentagon.
Slotkin is one of at least a dozen former members of the Obama administration to run for office. She’s raised more than Bishop over the last three fundraising quarters and had $1.34 million cash on hand as of March 31. Bishop reported having $1.30 million on hand.
Trump won the district by nine percentage points in 2016. Slotkin has been endorsed by Democratic women’s group EMILY’s List and was named to the House Democratic campaign arm’s “Red to Blue” list of candidates who receive extra fundraising and campaign organization support.
An Opening for Republican Women
While Democrats see Republican retirements in districts Hillary Clinton won as some of their best chances to gain seats, they’ve also created openings for Republican women to run. When Republican Representative Darrell Issa announced his retirement from his seat near San Diego in January, two women entered the June primary: Kristin Gaspar and Diane Harkey.
Gaspar became the first elected mayor of Encinitas, a town near San Diego, in 2014 and currently serves as chairwoman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
Liesl Hickey, a former executive director for House Republicans campaign arm, called Gaspar one of the next generation of female Republican leaders. “She has a record of getting things done, and getting real results,” Gaspar said on the “House Talk with Ali and Liesl” podcast.
Harkey is a former state assemblywoman who currently serves on the State Board of Equalization and has been endorsed by Issa. “She’s had to battle the bureaucracy in Sacramento and she’s had to deal with the tax code, that continues to be troublesome for employers, for job creators,” Issa told a local ABC affiliate in January.
The House Republican campaign arm named both Gaspar and Harkey to its “Young Gun Contenders” list for competitive candidates.
California’s top two primary system – where the top two vote-getters advance to the general regardless of party – means that Democrats could get shut out of the district if they split their vote. Five Democrats and five Republicans entered the race.
New Era in an Increasingly Diverse District
The contest to replace Republican Representative Ed Royce may feature two Asian-American women facing off against each other in an increasingly diverse southern California district.
Democrat Mai Khanh Tran is a pediatrician who came to the United States when she was a child as a Vietnam War refugee. Young Kim, an immigrant from South Korea, former California state assemblywoman and Royce staffer, is competing against at least three Republicans.
The district is currently about one-third white, one-third Asian American and one-third Hispanic. While the district has historically leaned Republican, it has become more favorable to Democrats as the Hispanic and Asian-American populations increased.
Kim, 46, has been endorsed by Royce and has outraised all of her Republican opponents. She also has backing from VIEW PAC, which supports Republican women. The House Republican campaign arm has named Kim to its “Young Gun Contenders” program for promising candidates.
“With someone like Ed Royce, my former boss, encouraging me, I felt very confident that I could do this,” Kim said.
Tran, 52, has pointed to the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare as a primary driver for her decision to run.
In contrast to Kim, Tran is confronting opposition from her own party. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is putting its support behind another candidate, Gil Cisneros, a Navy veteran and lottery winner turned philanthropist. Party leaders regard Cisneros as a strong challenger to Kim in November and are concerned that the Democratic vote will be split in the California primary, in which candidates from both parties appear on the same ballot with the top two finishers running in November.
A Virginia Republican Faces Her Toughest Challenge
Barbara Comstock is near the top of the list of vulnerable House Republicans in November. Her northern Virginia district, part of suburban Washington, voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump for president in 2016 and gave a decisive edge to Democrat Ralph Northam in last year’s governor’s race.
“She’s got a serious challenge on her hands,” said Missy Shorey, executive director of Maggie’s List, a political action committee that supports conservative women. “That being said, people thought in 2016 she’d have a hard race and they thought she’d have a hard race before that, and she’s always come out a winner.”
The race is a bellwether for the attempt by Democrats to retake control of the House.
Comstock, 58, was elected to Congress in 2014, and with a district full of federal employees, she has focused on pay raises and more flexibility for public servants, as well as expanding job opportunities for veterans. She also introduced a House bill to change the reporting process and awareness training for sexual harassment cases in Congress. She voted against last year’s House GOP legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Such demonstrations of independence play well in the district, which has been trending Democratic.
Comstock has a token GOP challenger in the June primary, but her bigger test will be fending off the Democrat who emerges from a crowded field in the primary. The leading contender is state Senator Jennifer Wexton, who’s been endorsed by Northam.
A Republican Woman Targeted by Democrats
Another California target for Democrats is the only woman in the state’s GOP delegation in the House, Representative Mimi Walters.
The Orange County seat went for Clinton by five percentage points and five Democrats are vying for the chance to unseat Walters. Women’s groups have rallied behind Katie Porter, a consumer advocate and law professor. EMILY’s List, the largest Democratic women’s group in the country, has endorsed Porter and the group’s political action committee has started spending money in the district. Porter’s been endorsed by Senator Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a darling of progressives who taught Porter at Harvard Law School.
“I decided to run very, very immediately following the election of Trump,” Porter said. Porter said that as she watched the results from her community center and remembered people were upset about Trump “and really nobody talking in the room about Mimi Walters being elected and her track record.”
If Porter beats the four men running in the primary, including David Min, her fellow professor at University of California at Irvine, she’ll focus on “discussing what it means to be a champion for women and families,” she said.
Walters, a two-term incumbent and mother of four, has focused her campaign around her work passing a bill protecting assault survivors. Walters has so far outpaced her Democratic challengers in fundraising. She raised $2.2 million through March 31 and has $1.7 million on hand, with the top Democratic fundraiser, former Obama administration official Brian Forde, has raised $1.2 million and has $662,000 to spend.
Battle for a Swing District in Texas
Texas is already likely to send two more women to Congress this fall, with Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia winning primaries in heavily Democratic-leaning districts. In the border district that includes part of El Paso, Gina Ortiz Jones is the Democratic frontrunner in the race to flip Republican Representative Will Hurd’s seat.
Hurd’s predominantly Hispanic district has changed party hands five times since the ’90s and gave Hillary Clinton a three percentage point margin in the 2016 presidential contest.
Ortiz Jones, 37, said she was working in the Executive Office of the President under Barack Obama on the night of the 2016 election and knew it was time for her to change her public service role. “This is a moment in time when you have to stop assuming that somebody is going to do for us that which we can do for ourselves,” she said.
Ortiz Jones, led a March 8 primary with 41 percent of the vote and will face Rick Trevino, who won 17 percent of the vote, in a run off on May 22. If she makes it to the general election and wins, the Air Force veteran would be the first lesbian and first Filipina-American to represent Texas.
A Doctor Running for House
Kim Schrier, a pediatrician and first-time candidate, is another Democrat making Obamacare a cornerstone of the campaign.
She’s running to replace Republican Representative David Reichert in a suburban Seattle district that went to Clinton by three points in 2016. Democrats’ chances in the district were boosted when Reichert announced his retirement last September.
Schrier, 49, who was diagnosed with diabetes at age 16, has used her personal experience with a pre-existing condition to highlight the benefits of Obamacare, which Republicans attempted to repeal last year.
Schrier told Bloomberg News in March that while several factors played into her decision to run, “the general overarching theme is that I have really deep concerns about the health and well-being of my patients, children, and their families under an unchecked Trump administration.”
Schrier is the preferred candidate of some national Democratic groups, though the party’s congressional campaign arm hasn’t endorsed a candidate, and she’s facing another female doctor in the Democratic primary. Shannon Hader focuses on infectious diseases and recently led a team on HIV and tuberculosis prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Criminal prosecutor Jason Rittereiser is also competing for the chance to take on the likely Republican nominee, former state Senator Dino Rossi.
(Updates with party committee not making endorsement in final paragraph.)
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