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A Record 309 Women Are Running For Seats In The House (And 1,103 Men)

Letitia Plummer, a Houston dentist and candidate for Congress to represent Texas District 22, is applauded during a women's candidate training workshop at El Centro College in Dallas in December.
LM Otero

A record number of women — 309 — had filed to run for the U.S. House as of April 6. That's a nearly 90-percent increase over 2016's numbers.

That wave of women candidates has sent the share of candidates who are women skyrocketing...to 22 percent.

Along with the number of women candidates climbing sharply this year, the number of men running for office has risen. As a result, the number of women candidates — despite a large spike — is still dwarfed by the number of men candidates. That's the finding of a new analysis from Kelly Dittmar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

The finding complicates the story line that 2018 is a record-breaking year for women candidates. Altogether, women make up 21.9 percent of the House candidates in the 29 states that had filed as of April 6, compared to 15.9 percent in 2016 in those states. That's still a sizable jump, but it's also a much more muted increase than the raw numbers would suggest.

According to Dittmar, there are two currents at work here: one about party, and one about gender.

"The pink wave is blue. It's really about the fact that there's more Democrats running this year," she said. "[But] even among Democrats, women have increased their numbers of candidacies more than their male counterparts. So there is a piece of this that is distinctive to women, and particularly Democratic women."

Indeed, the increase in Democratic candidates from 2016 (68 percent) is much bigger than the increase in Republican candidates (13.5 percent).

But in both parties, the jump in women candidates is much bigger than the jump for men. The number of Democratic women running is up by nearly 127 percent, compared to 51 percent for Democratic men. Likewise, the number of Republican women is up by 28 percent, compared to 12 percent for GOP men.

Voters do see women and men candidates differently, and those differences may give women an advantage in November — women tend to communicate the idea of change to voters more than men do, as strategists told NPR in March, and women tend to fare better than men on the topic of health care, which is an important campaign issue this year.

Democratic women candidates have additional reason for optimism, as Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to believe that electing more women would improve the country.

The surge in women candidates isn't limited to the House. At the time that CAWP found that there are a record number of women House candidates, there were also a record number of women running for governorships.

The number of women running for the Senate was 29, shy of the record of 40 (set in 2016) but still set to grow as more candidates file in more states. There is a good chance that there will be a record number of woman-vs.-woman general election match-ups in Senate races, as researchers at the University of Minnesota found in March. The record is three in one year.

Dittmar thinks that all the talk of the surge in women candidates, while true, also may lead people to expect a much larger surge in wins for women in November than is likely.

That nearly 22 percent of candidates who are women is not outsized; it mirrors the 20 percent of Congress members who are women, according to CAWP numbers.

Women make up around 51 percent of Americans. To reach that proportion in Congress, far more women would have to run, Dittmar said.

"If we want to see significant gains for women in office, to get much closer to parity, we're going to have to get closer to parity in the number of candidates," Dittmar said.

And that won't happen quickly.

"The gains that we all, at least those of us who do women politics, want to see for women in politics — those gains are going to be a long game," she added. "They aren't going to happen in one election."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.
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