Reading: The Women Behind the Women Running in 2018

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The Women Behind the Women Running in 2018

A record 270 women are running for public office. But also a record number of women are offering tactical support

By Lisa Rabasca Roepe

women's hands holding a button saying Midterms for women
Illustration by TaLeah Schoetmer

Women are playing a key role in the 2018 midterm elections, from the record number of women running for office, to the women mobilizing like never before to support other women at the polls.

More than 270 women are running for either the US House or US Senate or for governor, according to Politico’s Women Candidate Tracker. Most of these candidates aren’t career politicians. They’re coming in as moms and military veterans, with backgrounds in medicine, teaching, and nursing, says Tonya Williams, director of strategic communications for Emily’s List, a political action committee that aims to help elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office. “Women typically run because there is a problem they want to solve. You’re seeing that all over the country. They feel like ‘I can do this, too. I can bring all those experiences to the table and be an effective leader for my community,’ ” Williams says.

Meanwhile, pollsters are finding that female candidates could have an edge this election. A Morning Consult survey shows that Democratic voters favor female candidates over male candidates by a net 19 percentage points. Democrats are also more likely to prefer candidates who are Native American, black, or Hispanic over white candidates, the poll finds. Several other pollsters are predicting a double-digit gender gap, with women more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate running for the US House. To wit: a YouGov survey found that male voters preferred the Republican candidate by 9 percentage points, while female voters preferred the Democratic candidate by 15 points; both the Quinnipiac and Marist polls showed a 24-point gap, according to FiveThirtyEight, a website that focuses on opinion poll analysis. If these polls are correct, we’re potentially looking at the widest gender gap in congressional elections since 1992, the year that the number of female congressional members doubled.

“Educated suburban women will decide who controls the House,” says Sarah Chamberlain, CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership, a coalition of 80 Republican Congress members. “They could affect the Senate.” While Chamberlain admits that the GOP might be a bit behind the Democrats in getting women engaged in elections, this year the GOP has made an all-out effort to involve women. “Every issue is a women’s issue because women tend to know what their families are facing,” she says. This year Chamberlain has been traveling the country, talking with women face-to-face about their concerns and educating them about what their Republican Congress members are doing to support the issues that are important to them and their families.

Writing postcards to voters

It’s this type of face-to-face interaction that experts say helps get candidates elected. “The theory is [that] to win someone over, you have to make contact with them seven times through mail, in-person contact, and a phone call,” says Connie Cordovilla, president of Northern VA NOW. Yet many women are also trying new tactics this election cycle, including creating hyper-local groups of women who are working to get other women elected and getting more people to the polls to vote, especially those voters who sat out the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential election.

FINDING OTHER LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE
When Jen Cox moved from Denver to the suburbs of Atlanta, she initially thought she was the only progressive woman in her neighborhood because all the political signs and stickers supported Republicans. She eventually found a small group of liberal women who met regularly for social events. During a game of Cards Against Humanity, Cox suggested they should stop being so secretive about their political beliefs and show their support for Hillary Clinton by planning a rally before the 2016 election. To Cox’s surprise, about 200 men, women, and children came out to support Hillary in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta on October 23, 2016.

That experience inspired Cox and several other women to start PaveItBlue, a local Facebook group that is mobilizing more than 5,000 women in metro Atlanta to support progressive candidates including Stacey Abrams, the state’s first black female candidate running for governor. “We don’t use our website much,” says Cox. “We use Facebook to get news and to vent and to ask questions. That’s where our audience is and that’s where we organize from.” PaveItBlue members also agreed the group’s leadership would be all women. “We felt like it was women’s turn to be the leaders and at the table,” Cox says. “We welcome men as allies and guests but, as for the talking and the organizing, we keep that to women only.”

Stacey Abrams with female supporters

Supporters with Stacey Abrams who is running for Governor in Atlanta in 2018. From left: Rebecca Sandberg, Samantha Reese, Stacey Abrams, Chrisoula Baikos, Jen Cox.

Jan Higgins Adams, who lives in Katy, Texas, has had a similar experience finding like-minded, progressive women. Until she found her local Indivisible Katy Huddle group, Adams says it was hard to find other Democrats. Now she is part of a group of about 800 people who come together regularly to support other Democrats. “It made us more aware of everyone else, and we’re finding out there are a lot of people who agree with us,” she says.

In addition to supporting Beto O’Rourke in his election against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz, the Indivisible Katy Huddle group is supporting Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in her bid against incumbent Republican John Culberson. “I think women are feeling very empowered with this election,” Adams says.

GETTING PEOPLE TO THE POLLS
Texas has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the nation. It ranks 44th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in voter registration, and it ranked 47th out of 51 for turnout during the 2016 election, according to research from the University of Texas at Austin. “We’re trying to change that for our candidate,” Adams says, “by targeting the women who are most likely to vote Democrat but didn’t vote in the 2014 midterms or the 2016 election.” The Indivisible Katy Huddle group sent 3,600 postcards to these women and urged them not to sit out this election. Each member of the Indivisible group also has committed to getting at least three non-voters to register and to the polls to vote.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, where according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the state canceled the registration of more than a half-million voters, groups like PaveItBlue are urging people check to make sure they are still registered to vote. Canceled voter registrations aren’t just happening in Georgia. “Many people are discovering they are not registered anymore,” says Cordovilla of Northern VA NOW. For instance, she says, in Fairfax County, Virginia, if you haven’t voted in eight years, or in the last two national elections, you were probably removed from the polls. The last day to register to vote varies by state but you can check your registration status, register to vote, learn about early voting, or obtain an absentee ballot from a national, nonpartisan Election Protection coalition.

Indivisible’s Katy Huddle group in Texas supports female candidates

To get more people to the polls, Women’s March Chicago is planning a march to the polls on October 13, the first Saturday of early voting in Illinois. “In 2018 we have a unique opportunity to take action by going to polls,” says board member Dilara Sayeed. “We hope to overwhelm the board of elections with the number of people who will cast their vote.”

Rideshare company Lyft is working with groups like Vote.org, Nonprofit Vote, and TurboVote to offer 50 percent off rides across the country and with Voto Latino, local Urban League affiliates, and the National Federation of the Blind to provide free rides to underserved communities that face significant obstacles to transportation.

While all these efforts to get more women elected are great, Allison Fine (co-founder of Underwire, a community of newly elected women) warns there need to be more organizations that support women once they get elected. “We’re about to elect a lot of first-time women candidates who don’t have a way to figure out how to do this job,” she says. “We’re going to waste this wave if we don’t help them once they get elected.”

However, Adams points out, none of these candidates are running as “a woman.” “They are running because they’re the strongest candidate,” she says. “They aren’t playing the woman card.”

Here are three things you can do today to help elect more women:
*Make sure you are registered to vote on Tuesday, November 6
*Learn the last day to register to vote in your state
*Find your polling place and make a plan to get there

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