Women emerged victorious in a series of highly watched Democratic primary races on Tuesday in Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Idaho, and Oregon. These primaries set the stage for the upcoming midterm elections, where Democrats are vying to take control of the U.S. Congress and women are winning the candidacies to help them compete.
The primary races in these four states are a microcosm of what is happening at the national level. Presently, only one in five seats on Capitol Hill are held by women. But, in what some are calling the new “Year of the Woman,” 600 women from both parties are running or have said they will run for U.S. House, U.S. Senate, or the governor’s seat so far this year. The numbers are even higher when you include state positions. Following Tuesday’s primary results, Democratic National Committee Women’s Media Director Elizabeth Renda said in a statement, “It’s no wonder why we’re seeing women standing up and making the decision to run for office—and succeeding in their races. Every day, women across the country are seeing Republicans attack their most fundamental rights.”
“Women are paying attention, and they’re rising up to make their voices heard by getting involved in politics at every level,” said Renda.
Here are some of the highlights from Tuesday’s election results:
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In Nebraska’s congressional Democratic primaries, Jane Raybould won for U.S. Senate, Jessica McClure for U.S. House District 1, and Kara Eastman for U.S. House District 2.
Eastman secured her win with a little over 1,000 votes in a race that gained national attention after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)—the arm of the party that works to elect members to the U.S. House of Representatives—instead backed Brad Ashford, a former Republican state legislator and U.S. member of Congress who voted in favor of some abortion restrictions while in the state legislature. Eastman ran on a platform that included Medicare-for-All and abortion rights and was backed by national progressive organizations such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Justice Democrats, and the Working Families Party.
Eastman told Rewire.News before the primary that she was “surprised” when the DCCC got involved. “I had been talking to them as well and they had told me that they would not be getting involved,” she said. “But the party doesn’t choose the candidate, the voters do.” Eastman will now face incumbent Don Bacon (R-NE) in the November elections. The Cook Political Report has labeled this race a “Republican Toss-Up,” meaning it could ultimately be a win for either party.
In a phone interview with Rewire.News, Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said he saw Eastman’s win as part of a progressive wave. “We really see Kara’s victory as the tip of the iceberg of many progressive primary victories around the country, where we’ll show that an inspiring economic, populist message is super popular and motivational for voters,” he said. “The best way for Democrats to win in red and purple districts in November is to nominate candidates who will inspire voters by talking about the economic realities of their lives instead of pretending to be conservatives or Republicans.”
Men currently hold all congressional seats in Pennsylvania, but last night’s elections indicate change could be on the horizon. As Roll Call reported before the primary, “for several female candidates, Pennsylvania politics was a boys’ club, perpetuated by county party structures that held power through their endorsements.” Women won across the state last night and will continue vying to change the state’s male-dominated landscape come November.
Last night’s races were the first using the state’s newly drawn congressional district map. In January, the old district map was deemed unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for its gerrymandering in favor of Republicans. Thirteen of the state’s 18 districts had contested Democratic races last night, and five were won by women: Madeleine Dean (District 4), Mary Gay Scanlon (District 5), Susan Wild (District 7), Bibiana Boerio (District 14), and Susan Boser (District 15). Between these five victories and the female candidates in uncontested districts, seven Democratic women in Pennsylvania will be up for election to Congress in November.
Susan Wild’s victory in District 7 over Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, one of her five opponents, came despite his lead in the Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll released just weeks before the election. As Rewire.News reported last week, Wild’s pro-choice, “proud progressive” candidacy sat in stark contrast to Morganelli’s opposition to abortion rights and alignment with Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Citing Morganelli’s positions on these issues, EMILY’s List jumped into the race with an estimated $1 million investment for Wild in direct mail and television advertisements.
Wild will face Republican Marty Nothstein, a former Olympic cyclist and county commissioner who won the GOP primary by less than 500 votes. If successful, Wild would be the first woman to ever serve in Congress representing Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.
In two of the districts where women aren’t celebrating in Pennsylvania, the losses were marginal. Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson, who ran in the District 10 primary, lost by about 500 votes in a district with nearly 40,000 votes recorded. Running in a district considered a GOP stronghold, Corbin-Johnson, a 26-year-old first-time candidate who would have been the youngest member of Congress if elected, has federal and state government experience. But in an ABC News article published on election day, she noted that she felt her identity as a woman trumped her background: “Unfortunately, we’re still at a point where women have to be extremely more qualified to even be considered. I’m the only woman running in my race that’s actually worked in the federal government—these are great qualifications but once they’re attached to a female, it’s, ‘Ok, that’s nice, but let me consider the other candidates also,’” Corbin-Johnson said.
While Corbin-Johnson picked up a number of endorsements throughout her campaign, including one late in the race from EMILY’s List, she only received $5,000 in funding from the group.
In Pennsylvania’s Congressional District 12, Judy Herschel lost her race by fewer than 250 votes, in a district that recorded more than 25,000 votes. Herschel is a former drug and alcohol counselor who said one of the big reasons why she decided to run was because of what she sees as the lack of congressional effort to hold drug companies accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic. If she had won the primary race, Herschel would have faced Rep. Tom Marino (R). Prior to the race, Marino had been nominated to lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. However, he withdrew his nomination after a Washington Post/60 Minutes investigation revealed he received financial support from the drug industry while working to weaken the Drug Enforcement Agency’s ability to crackdown on drug companies.
The Pennsylvania State House races were also notable. The Democratic Socialists of America are celebrating the primary wins of their four candidates, all women: labor organizer Summer Lee (HD-34); Sara Innamorato (HD-21), a founder of the women’s advocacy group She Runs Southwestern PA; former public radio reporter Elizabeth Fiedler (HD-184); and energy nonprofit leader Kristin Seale (HD-168).
In addition, the Democratic win in the House District 178 special election brings the total number of state legislative seats flipped by Democrats since Trump’s inauguration to 41. Democratic contender Helen Tai beat Republican candidate Wendi Thomas in a race to replace former state Rep. Scott Petri (R), who resigned with six months left in his term. As Daily Kos reported, this is the first time a Democrat has been elected to this state district seat since 1983.
Idaho and Oregon
In Idaho’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, Paulette Jordan took home over 58 percent of the vote to beat out her biggest Democratic contender, A.J. Balukoff. Jordan, a two-time former state lawmaker from the Coeur d’Alene tribe, is endorsed by groups such as Planned Parenthood, Democracy for America, People for the American Way, Our Revolution and Indivisible. In November, Jordan will face the winner of the Republican primary, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who spent over $1.2 million on his primary campaign and opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage. If she wins in November, Jordan will become the first Native American governor in the nation’s history.
A woman also won Oregon’s Democratic gubernatorial primary race yesterday: incumbent Kate Brown. EMILY’s List, which backed Brown, noted in a statement that she is “one of only two incumbent Democratic women governors in the country.”