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June 26 Primaries: Slow Progress for Women Candidates














Photo: Scott Heins/Getty

All primary results from the New York Times.

This Tuesday saw primaries in five states -- New York, Maryland, Colorado, Utah, and Oklahoma** -- and runoff elections in Mississippi and South Carolina. Dozens of women ran for their party’s nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, as well as for statewide elected offices like Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State. Currently, women are drastically underrepresented in Congress (20 percent) and in statewide elected office (23 percent).

RepresentWomen’s 2018 Primary Trackers show that the share of women candidates in these five states was meager, ranging from approximately 14 to 30 percent of all candidates. The vast majority of these women ran in yesterday’s 46 primaries for the House. Women will be on the November ballot in just 48 percent of those House races.

A large share of yesterday’s victorious women candidates are Democrats challenging Republican incumbents in safe Republican districts, meaning that there are very few chances for these women to actually win the seat come November. After all, our current electoral systems ensure that over 95% of incumbents win reelection year after year, and the vast majority of incumbents are men. Though ten of yesterday’s winning women, or roughly 34 percent, are incumbents themselves, Tuesday’s primaries present extremely slim possibilities for new women to pick up seats in November.

Additionally, women of color continue to be underrepresented as a proportion of candidates fielded for the November elections. Approximately 37 percent of women in the U.S. are women of color, yet women of color accounted for just 27.5 percent of women’s wins on Tuesday. Because women of color bring unique experiences, perspectives, and expertise to elected office, it is critical they are adequately represented.  

The one very likely opportunity for a women to win a seat previously held by a man surfaced with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory in the NY-14 House race. Ocasio-Cortez, a young woman of color and political newcomer, was outspent 18-to-1 by 10-term Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley. Despite long odds and innumerable barriers, Ocasio-Cortez’s district voted for her by a ten-point margin. This victory indicates that women candidates can succeed in the face of money, incumbency, our flawed electoral system, and men. The Ocasio-Cortez story will no doubt be the focus of many thinkpieces and blogs in the coming days, and it will become clearer what factors pushed her campaign across the finish line. Or, we can simply listen to Ocasio-Cortez when she says that the race was “about people versus money”.

**All of Oklahoma’s House primaries are going into runoff elections, so Oklahoma primaries have not been reflected in the percentages of winning women in this article. Women candidates are advancing to runoff elections in three out of five Oklahoma House districts.

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