Women candidates reach new highs across House battlefield in 2020

490 women are running for congressional seats this year, a new record high.

May 12, 2020, 2:04 PM

Another pink wave is on the horizon for 2020.

In the race for the top of the ticket, female contenders set a new record in the 2020 Democratic primary, with six women seeking the highest office in the country.

But beyond the presidential contest, which is now settled with presumptive nominee Joe Biden already vowing to pick a woman to be his number two, a surge of women candidates are running for office down-ballot this cycle.

An unprecedented 490 women filed to run for U.S. House seats, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, a new high after 2018's historic record of 476 women.

"In 2018, amidst the excitement of a record-breaking year for women candidates, we often asked whether we were in the middle of a one-time spike in candidacies driven by unique circumstances or if we were seeing the emergence of a new normal," said CAWP Director Debbie Walsh in a statement. "This is a sign that the momentum isn't letting up."

Fueling the groundswell is a significant slate of Republican candidates, with 195 women competing in congressional races, which far exceeds the lofty previous high of 133 from 2010. That year, the GOP's margin of victory in the lower chamber was the biggest gain for a party in a midterm since 1938, when Democrats lost 71 seats during the Great Depression.

Democrats, though, continue to outpace Republicans among female candidates this cycle, with 295 women seeking to make gains for the party across the House battlefield. That number is slightly down from 2018's total of 356.

On Tuesday, two Democratic women are seeking to clinch a spot in the House, as California state lawmaker Christy Smith is aiming to nab former Congresswoman Katie Hill's seat in a competitive special election for the 25th Congressional District, and Tricia Zunker, a justice on the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court and a law professor, hopes to flip a red seat to blue in a special election in Wisconsin's 7th Congressional District, the largest in the state formerly held by Congressman Sean Duffy.

In 10 congressional districts so far, the general election contests in the fall will feature an all-female ballot.

But this new ceiling could continue to rise, since 14 states still have outstanding filing deadlines.

PHOTO: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, poses with all House Democratic women members of the 116th Congress on the East Front Capitol Plaza on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 4, 2019, as the 116th Congress begins.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, poses with all House Democratic women members of the 116th Congress on the East Front Capitol Plaza on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 4, 2019, as the 116th Congress begins.
Andrew Harnik/AP, FILE

In the 116th Congress, women currently make up nearly one quarter of the chamber, according to Pew Research Center, a feat under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to helm the House in history.

The House includes 101 women in its ranks, and the Senate currently has 26 female senators.

Across the Senate map, 52 women candidates, including 33 Democrats and 19 Republicans, are so far jockeying for seats in 25 out of the 34 states with Senate contests this cycle.

Among some of the most competitive, four female incumbents are facing tough roads ahead, including Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, and Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

Both Ernst and Collins are likely to square off against formidable female challengers, with businesswoman Theresa Greenfield and Maine Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon likely to win their respective primaries this summer. Voters won't pick a nominee until early June and mid-July.

Nevertheless, female candidates are expected to make significant gains in November, just two years after a momentous bar was set when over 100 women were elected to Congress in the midterm elections.

A significantly larger collection of women are running to unseat incumbents than are retiring this year, with 297 running as challengers across 44 states, and only five female members retiring this cycle.

Come November, more gains by women across both parties could once again sweep in a new class of lawmakers, further diversifying one of the nation's oldest establishments.

"We are particularly encouraged to see Republican women stepping up and seeking office - we'll never get to parity without women on both sides of the aisle running and winning," Walsh said.

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