- Jen Metzger
Fears for her children's future led Tistrya Houghtling to seek political office. "I want my daughters to have the same rights and opportunities as my son and the right to decide what happens to their bodies," says Houghtling, who won the Democratic primary for New York's 107th Assembly District in September. "I want my biracial son to be safe walking down the street as a black male. I want clean air for them to breathe and clean water for them to drink."
Houghtling is not alone. Hillary Clinton's loss in 2016, despite her popular vote victory, and the direction the country has taken under President Trump have galvanized an army of female political candidates locally and across the country. The #MeToo movement, combined with the election of a president who has mocked women and praised neo-Nazis, is spurring them on.
Trump's disparaging and sexualized remarks about women, the many allegations of sexual misconduct against him, his failure to condemn violence by white supremacists, and an administration filled with white men have impelled women, and particularly women of color, to seek office in record numbers. Women's rights rallies and marches across the country have demonstrated huge grassroots support for the values these candidates represent.
This year, more women than ever before ran in major-party gubernatorial, US Senate, and House primaries—and won them. So far, 256 female candidates for Congress, or nearly half of the 524 who ran, have advanced to the general election. They include about 50 African-American women. Thirteen women have been nominated by their parties to run for governor. If elected in Georgia, Stacey Abrams would become the first black female governor. In Idaho, Paulette Jordan has a chance to become that state's first Native American governor. Running unopposed, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan is set to become the first Muslim congresswoman.
The election of these women would have far-reaching effects on their keys areas of focus, including health care, education, reproductive rights, and gun control.
"A record number of Democratic women are running this year and beyond, because they're frustrated and want to do something for their communities," says Stephanie Schriock, president of the women's political advocacy group Emily's List, which says it has fielded 36,000 inquiries from women interested in running for office since the 2016 election. "They're running to replace Republicans who do nothing but push dangerous policies and coddle their out-of-control president," says Schriock. "When these women win in November, they're going to bring positive, progressive change to Washington and statehouses across the country."
In the Bronx, the stunning primary victory of House candidate Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez—a young woman of color, socialist, and onetime bartender with scant political experience—over 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley symbolized the upending of politics as usual. Two high-profile actresses also joined the fray, using their celebrity as a springboard into politics, as have a long line of male celebrities, including Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Sonny Bono, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Franken, and yes, Donald Trump. "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon lost the primary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but managed to win more than a third of the vote. Diane Neal of "Law & Order" is running as an independent against Democratic candidate Antonio Delgado and Republican John Faso in the 19th Congressional District.
Along with Hillary Clinton, these candidates are the spiritual descendants of Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law School professor who challenged Cuomo in 2014, winning more than a third of the vote on a shoestring budget. She ran for New York attorney general in this year's primary, campaigning while eight-months pregnant, but lost to another woman, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, the first black woman to win a major-party nomination for statewide office in New York. Heavily favored in the general election, James is poised to make more history as the first black woman to hold statewide elected office in New York and the first woman to be elected attorney general in the state.
Brett Kavanaugh's charged confirmation hearing and his subsequent nomination to the Supreme Court have added fuel to the fire and may end up sealing some political legacies, just as Clarence Thomas's elevation to the Supreme Court after Anita Hill's testimony led to a doubling of women in Congress in 1992, which was dubbed "The Year of the Woman." Among them was California's Dianne Feinstein, now the longest-serving female senator and also record-holder for most votes out of any candidate nationwide in the Senate election of 2012.