Virginia Democrat Jennifer Wexton, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (left) and Sen. Tim Kaine(right) speaks at her 10th District primary night party in Sterling, Va., on Tuesday June 12th, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
By Kendrik Icenhour & Katie Pruitt
Women candidates won big on Tuesday June 12th, as Virginia, South Carolina, Maine, Nevada, and North Dakota held their primary elections for state and national offices.
Virginia continued the trend started in the state’s 2017 general election trend, where voters elected an historic number of women to the House of Delegates, by electing women in droves. On Tuesday night, six out of the 16 winners in congressional primaries were women (5 Democrats, 2 Republicans); in every district that a woman ran, a woman won.
Currently, Virginia only has one woman in Congress, Barbara Comstock (R-10), but this number could increase this fall. At minimum, one Virginia woman will be elected to Congress in November, since Comstock is running against Democratic State Senator Jennifer Wexton in a two-woman race. In both the 2nd and 7th Districts, the Democratic women candidates have a modest chance of defeating their male opponents in the general election. Vangie Williams (D), who on Tuesday became the first black woman to receive a major party nomination in the 1st district, is running to become the first Congresswoman of color from Virginia (though her chances of flipping deep-red 1st District are slim).
In South Carolina’s 1st district, Katie Arrington defeated incumbent Mark Sanford in the Republican congressional primary, one of the few major wins for Republican women of the night. She has a strong chance of winning in the general election in her fiercely Republican district. Elsewhere in South Carolina, four other women won their primaries for Congress and three won for statewide offices, though it seems unlikely that more than one of these women will win in the general election. South Carolina has not elected a woman to Congress since 1990 and most races this fall have male incumbents running in districts that are highly partisan.
In Nevada, Representative Jacky Rosen (D) won her primary for the Senate. She will run against incumbent Dean Heller (R) in the November, an election that Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates as a toss-up. Hillary Clinton carried Nevada in the 2016 election by two points.
Three other women also won House primaries in Nevada. In the 1st District, incumbent Dina Titus (D) will probably fend off Republican challenger Joyce Bentley in the general election, while Susie Lee (D) is likely to win Jacky Rosen’s old seat in the 3rd District. Moreover, a woman won her nomination for lieutenant governor and five out of eight nominees for the state senate are women.
North Dakota saw Senate incumbent Heidi Heitkamp win the Democratic nomination uncontested and 17 out of 43 candidates (39.5 percent) who won their primaries for the state legislature are women. Currently, women make up only 18 percent of the legislature.
The most important victory of the night for representation was Maine’s primary election. Voters passed a citizen’s veto to reinstate ranked-choice voting. Ranked-choice voting has tremendous potential to create a more representative and diverse government. Moreover, many female candidates that won their primaries for the state legislature and for Congress were women. Most of these women are likely to win their elections, according to partisan leanings and incumbent advantage. The ranked-choice ballots for the Democratic gubernatorial primary have not yet been tabulated, but current Attorney General Janet Mills is currently leading in the first round of votes.
Though women candidates won big on Tuesday, most of the gains were made by Democratic women. Of the 53 women who ran for statewide or congressional office, only 18 (34 percent) were Republicans, and just five of the 22 women who won these primaries were Republicans. This is a continuation of a trend we’ve seen in almost all of the 2018 primaries, where Republican women are lagging behind their Democratic counterparts in both the rates at which they are running for office and the rates at which they are winning elections. Nevertheless, the June 12th primaries bode well for the success of women candidates in the general election.
Political Leaning and Incumbent Data from The Cook Political Report