These Women Lost Their Midterm Election Bids—but They’re Trying Again in 2020

These candidates are pushing a progressive agenda in the 2020 election cycle after coming up short in the 2018 midterm elections.

[Photo: A collage of head shots. From left to right, Gina Ortiz Jones, Julie Oliver and Marie Newman.]
During the 2018 midterm elections, women ran for office and won in unprecedented numbers— but some fell short of victory. Undeterred, several are jumping back in, hoping 2020 could end differently. Among them Gina Ortiz (L), Julie Oliver and Marie Newman (R). Gina Ortiz Jones for Congress / YouTube, KCENNews / YouTube, NARAL Pro-Choice America / YouTube

Women in the 2018 midterms ran for office and won in unprecedented numbers—but some fell short of victory. Undeterred, several are jumping back in, believing 2020 could end differently.

What’s motivating them to run again in 2020? Heather Barmore, director of public affairs at VoteRunLead—an organization that trains women to run for office and whose program alumni include Cori Bush, a candidate running again this cycle in Missouri—told Rewire.News that there were many reasons why some women may run for office again. “A lot of candidates, they didn’t lose by a significant margin, so why not run again?”

In other instances, “they might be a Democratic woman who lost to a Republican man who [is] now thinking, ‘OK, well I see what’s happening in Congress now. I could definitely be better than the person who’s serving there. I’ll give it another try,’” Barmore said. Others, “just still have that passion.”

And in some areas, those in office may not reflect the diversity of their constituents. “They believe and know that they are more representative of the community,” Barmore said. “They’ve done it before. They’re willing to do it again. And they already have the name recognition from the 2018 race.”

Regardless of the reason why they’re giving it another go, here are some of the women taking the leap.

Gina Ortiz Jones

In the 2018 midterm election, Gina Ortiz Jones lost her bid to unseat Republican Rep. Will Hurd in Texas’ 23rd Congressional District by less than 1,000 votes. She embraced her narrow loss this week in a video announcing she would run again. “Last year I came up a little bit short in my run for Congress—926 votes,” she said. “But I’ve never been one to back down because the promise of our country is worth fighting for.”

Hurd, a Republican who has at times gone against President Trump—but still voted in line with the president 81.5 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight—is considered especially vulnerable in 2020. The race is one of just 11 House races considered a “toss-up” by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales/Roll Call for the election cycle. And on her first official day in the race, Ortiz Jones reportedly pulled in more than $100,000 in fundraising.

Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party, noted in a statement to Rewire.News that the presence of the presidential election on the ticket in 2020 could make all the difference in flipping the districts this time around. “Texas 23 was decided by less than 1,000 votes in an off-year election,” Rahman said. “With increased Presidential turnout, a Texas-strong Democratic nominee, and Will Hurd showing his true colors by promising to vote for Donald Trump in 2020 and prioritizing his DC career over his Texas constituents, Texas 23 is on course to turn blue. This is one of the most competitive districts in the country, and Texas Democrats are laser-focused on victory.”

Cori Bush

Democrat Cori Bush came up short in her 2018 primary bid against Rep. Lacy Clay in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District. But not before her race made national headlines, thanks in part to a boost from progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who had recently won her own successful primary bid against another deeply entrenched incumbent Democrat.

Bush—a nurse, pastor, and community activist whose 2018 run for Congress was featured in the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House—backed progressive policy favorites like free college tuition, a $15 minimum wage, and “Medicare for All.” She had the support of Brand New Congress, a political action committee that backs candidates who support progressive legislation, and was the first candidate the organization jumped behind that election cycle. She was again the first candidate to win the organization’s support in the 2020 cycle.

“I’m running because the people of Saint Louis still need resources,” Bush said, according to a press release. “We still need a livable wage. We still need affordable, quality, available health insurance, we still need racial equity, we still need reforms on our criminal justice system.”

Kara Eastman 

Democrat Kara Eastman’s journey to the Democratic nomination for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District in the 2018 midterms wasn’t easy. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had backed rival Democratic candidate former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford, who had served as a Republican state legislator and voted in favor of some abortion restrictions before switching his party affiliation. The DCCC eventually threw its support behind her after the primary, but Eastman ultimately lost her race to incumbent Republican Rep. Don Bacon by roughly 2 percentage points.

Just over a month later, Eastman announced she would run for the seat again in 2020. “Running for Congress to represent the Nebraska 2nd was the greatest honor of my life. I am proud of our campaign and the enthusiasm we ignited in the district,” Eastman said in a statement on her decision. “I spent the past two years introducing myself to the people of Nebraska’s 2nd District. Now I am excited to give everyone a chance to really get to know me. I am ready to roll up my sleeves again, talk to voters, and earn their votes in 2020.”

Eastman—whose platform in 2018 included support of Medicare for All, garnering her the backing of several progressive groups—will again face a primary battle. Ann Ashford, Brad Ashford’s wife, jumped into the race in February. The Cook Political Report considers the district to “lean Republican.”

Julie Oliver 

When Democrat Julie Oliver ran for Congress in Texas’ 25th District, her personal story helped her make national headlines and put the spotlight on a race described by HuffPost at the time as an “uphill battle” for her. Oliver, who challenged Republican Rep. Roger Williams, ran on a platform that included support for Medicare for All in a district thought to be solidly red. Oliver did, in the end, come up short, but lost her race by less than ten percentage points.

Oliver officially announced that she would run again in mid-May. “Our democracy and our future success depend on restoring true, effective representation to this district,” she said in a statement. “The thousands and thousands of people I was lucky enough to meet as I traveled up, down, and across this district deserve so much better.”

The district is rated as “solidly Republican” for 2020 by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales/Roll Call’s race ratings.

Marie Newman

Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District may be considered a safe seat for Democrats, but that doesn’t mean you can expect the Democrat holding it to espouse the party line on issues like abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, or the minimum wage. The district’s representative, Rep. Dan Lipinski, is one of the last remaining anti-choice Democrats in Congress—but he just barely held onto his seat in 2018 when progressive Marie Newman mounted a competitive primary challenge and lost by less than a handful of percentage points.

After she launched another bid to unseat Lipinski in April, Newman—an abortion rights supporter—told Rewire.News that “bunches of things” have changed since her last run for office that may make her victorious this time around. “We have spent the last year working very hard, broadening the coalition,” she said at the time, noting the campaign had “worked in all of the communities” to garner support, working “up and down the line grassroots to grasstops built stronger relationships.”

Newman’s 2020 campaign has made a splash. Both progressive organizations fundraising on her behalf and the campaign itself saw a boost in donations after news broke that the campaign had lost consultants due to the DCCC policy of “blacklisting” vendors who work with those who challenge incumbent Democrats. Then in early May, Newman racked up endorsements from groups including MoveOn, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Though the groups had endorsed Newman during the last election cycle, this time around, EMILY’s List jumped into the race early despite having waited until the month before the primary to do so in 2018.

Dana Balter

Though Dana Balter had grassroots support for her candidacy in her 2018 primary, the DCCC nonetheless jumped in to support a last-minute bid from Juanita Perez Williams—who had made social media posts about her personal opposition to abortion rights—in hopes of flipping New York’s 24th Congressional District. While Democrats in the district made their preference for Balter clear when they nominated her to take on Republican Rep. John Katko in the midterms, Katko came out on top in November with 52.6 percent of votes to Balter’s 47.4 percent, according to the New York Times.

In April, Balter announced she would run again, though she will face several other Democrats in the district’s 2020 primary. “We got closer to beating John Katko than anybody ever has,” Balter said in an event kicking off her new campaign last month. “So what are we going to do about it? We’re going to reignite the movement. Let’s finish the job we started.”

The Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales/Roll Call race ratings for 2020 rate the race as one that “lean[s] Republican,” but Democrats have set their sights on making sure they flip the seat. The DCCC named the Katko in February to its “2020 Republican Retirement Watch List,” which it said in a press release it would back with Twitter ad geo-targeted to the districts of those targeted.