Record number of women running for Congress this year, 11 in Ohio

“I’m running for Congress now,” she said, “because I have found my voice.”

When hundreds of thousands of women descended on the National Mall on the January 2017 day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, it was clear that women were motivated. It wasn’t clear what that would mean. Nearly two years later, the answer is emerging: Unprecedented numbers of women are running for office, and what they are running on is shaping politics in ways not previously seen.

RELATED: Thousands rally in Dayton as part of march eventsIt’s not clear yet how voters will react to the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court vote, in the wake of a 51-year-old California woman’s sexual assault accusations against him when both were in high school, but experts say it could have a big impact, particularly with women.

In an Oct. 1 Quinnipiac University poll, women opposed Kavanaugh’s confirmation 55 percent to 37 percent, while men supported it 49 to 40 percent.

Republican Congressman Mike Turner is facing a challenge from Democrat Theresa Gasper in Ohio’s 10th District.
Photo: Staff Writer

“This has the potential to activate women in some ways the other issues may not have,” said C. Danielle Vinson, a political science professor at Furman University. “Anger’s a good motivator to go vote.”

There appears to be anger on both sides of the political aisle.

“There’s no question we have seen a surge in Republican enthusiasm in the last two weeks,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist in Washington. “When the election was framing up as a referendum on Trump, Democrats had an enthusiasm advantage simply because Democrats are so fired up.”

But, he said, “since Kavanaugh’s dominated the headlines, the election is being re-framed and it’s helping Republicans. A lot of Republican voters – men and women – think Kavanaugh has been mistreated by Democrats and some in the media.”

RELATED: Trump: ‘Scary time’ for young menGOP consultant Jessica Towhey agrees that GOP women are angry, saying many view Kavanaugh’s treatment as a partisan smear.

“Women are looking at their partners, their spouses, boyfriends and sons and asking what if an allegation is made against one of them?” she said. “We now have completely erased the standard of burden of proof. You now have to prove the negative.”

Emily Martin vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, has a completely different take. She said women are angry because they believe the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, was largely disregarded.

Women were already motivated to vote, she said, but the Kavanaugh hearing threw gasoline on the fire.

“All of the indicators are of women being mad as hell and ready to change the system,” she said.

Janet Garrett is running against 4th District Congressman Jim Jordan
Photo: Staff Writer

RELATED: Vastly different takeaways from Kavanaugh hearingFor many, the Kavanaugh hearings were reminiscent of the contentious 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, which resulted in a wave of women running for office. In the fall of 1992, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, Patty Murray of Washington, and Moseley-Braun all won Senate races. Many called it “the year of the woman.”

Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said the enthusiasm this year is indisputable: 476 women filed to run for the U.S. House, compared to the previous record of 298 in 2012. Of those 476, 235 won their primaries and will compete in the general election. The previous record for women winning primaries was 167 in 2016.

“We haven’t just broken records,” she said. “We just blew past them.”

That’s also been borne out in state legislature races. Going into the general election, 3,379 women are running, easily beating the previous record, set in 2016, of 2,649, according to the center. In races for governor, 16 women were nominated, Sinzdak said, up from the previous record of 10, set in 1994.

Sinzdak said women are a long way from being equally represented in Congress and state legislatures. Most, like Garrett, are challenging well-funded incumbents. But even if they don’t win they are changing the playbook of what it means to be a candidate, she said, by “leaning into their personal narrative,” talking about their experience with sexual assault, or even citing motherhood as a qualification.

One U.S. House candidate in New York successfully petitioned the Federal Election Commission to be able to use her campaign funds for child care.

“You don’t have to be a traditional candidate anymore,” she said.

Although the bulk of the women running are Democrats, Republicans have also recruited women to run in key races, according to Rep. Steve Stivers, an Upper Arlington Republican who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee. Stivers pointed to Lea Marquez Peterson and Wendy Rogers, both in Arizona; Maria Elvira Salazar in Florida; and Elizabeth Heng and Young Kim in California.

The same suburban Republican women that Democrats believe will defect to their party will stay with the GOP, he said, because they are happy about low unemployment and a booming economy.

“Elections are choices,” he said, “and the policies we’ve put forth have moved America forward.”

RELATED: Trump and women: The big disconnect in politicsGetting significantly more women into Ohio’s top offices will be a tough climb. Democrats are running 10 women in Ohio’s congressional races, but only the three Democratic incumbents are considered favorites. And of the Republican candidates, just one is a woman: Beverly Goldstein, who is given almost no chance to unseat incumbent Democrat Marcia Fudge, D-Cleveland.

In the 10th District, business woman and Democrat Theresa Gasper is opposing Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, who has held the seat since 2003. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a popular political rating web site, lists the district as “likely Republican.”

Sabato gives Betsy Rader, a Democrat running against Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Bainbridge Twp., a slightly better chance, saying the northeast Ohio race “leans Republican,” one category away from “tossup.” Gasper and Rader have both said they decided to run because they could no longer sit on the sidelines.

In Ohio’s heavily Republican 8th District, Republican Congressman Warren Davidson is facing Democrat and Butler County business owner Vanessa Enoch.

That seems to be a familiar theme for women this year. Rader, who participated in the January 2017 women’s march, said many of the women who marched for women’s rights in the ’60s got a wake-up call when Donald Trump was elected president.

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