With only seven weeks left before election day, the number of women running for Congress — 163 — is at an all-time high. The Center for Women and Politics, which is part of the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers, has been campaigning to get more women to run for office. Center Director Debbie Walsh sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the number of female candidates and the women’s vote in this presidential election year.
Walsh calls the record number of female candidates a milestone, one that hasn’t been seen since 1992 which was referred to as “the year of the woman” when the largest single increase of women post-election served in Congress.
“The challenge now is to turn these record number of candidates into record numbers of officeholders.”
The Center for Women and Politics launched a national, nonpartisan project to engage and inspire more women to run for office. The 2012 Project, as it was called, targeted women 45 and older, under the belief they were the group ready to run right now.
“Their kids may be grown, they have fewer family responsibilities, more life experiences, they’ve attained leadership in whatever field they’re in,” explained Walsh. “We wanted to get them to think about running in 2012 because it is a year of opportunity with redistricting all around the country, new districts drawn and created; it is a time when newcomers can break in much like in 1992.”
In terms of party lines, the breakdown of female candidates running for Congress is overwhelmingly lopsided in favor of the Democrats, with 116 women running as Democrats and 47 as Republicans.
According to Walsh, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. She says that in 2010, most of the women filing to run for Congress came from Republican women but they have a harder time getting past the primaries than their Democratic counterparts.
“The Republican women tend to be a bit more moderate when they run for office on that side and what happens is that the most conservative element of the party is out voting in the primary and they have trouble getting elected.”
The disproportionate rate of Democrats to Republicans is repeated on the Senate side, 12 to six.
There are few gubernatorial races this year with only one woman, a Democrat, running for governor in New Hampshire. If she loses, there will be no Democratic governor for the first time in several years.
In this presidential campaign, polls have consistently show the likelihood of female voters in favor of President Obama. Voting patterns since the last presidential election do not bode well for the GOP.
“In the last presidential election, 9 million more women voted than men and we know that women vote differently than men. And we anticipate seeing a gender gap where women vote more for the Democratic than their male counterparts do and I think you can see that in this presidential election.”