Democratic women candidates backed by groups such as Emerge America continued to make gains in the 2019 elections, closing the gender gap in a number of state and local governments.
In Virginia, a record 65 Democratic women won their races in the House of Delegates and the state Senate, giving Democrats majorities in both legislatures.
Tuesday’s elections also saw women win mayoral races for the first time in Scranton and Tucson, and make up a majority for the first time on Boston’s City Council.
Democratic women’s groups and the candidates are hopeful that the surge in officeholders will help bring attention to issues they have campaigned on, such as improved access to health care and abortion rights.
In Richmond, for example, the surge in female legislators is expected to provide a new impetus to the Equal Rights Amendment, making it likely Virginia will become the 38th and final state needed to push through a constitutional amendment.
The surge in women officeholders reflects a confluence of factors, including candidates fired up by opposition to President Trump‘s policies, and it comes after a record number of Democratic female lawmakers were elected to Congress in 2018, in what became known as the “year of the woman.”
“2017 and 2018 wasn’t just a moment, but really has created a permanent change in what we are seeing in our electoral college,” Emerge’s interim president Amanda Renteria said in a call with reporters on Wednesday.
Officials at Emerge, an organization devoted to electing Democratic women, emphasized the adoption of a strategy that targeted GOP-controlled districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 in Virginia.
The group reported having backed over 230 candidates on the ballot in the 2019 election, with 125 of those women winning their races as of Wednesday.
In addition to gaining seats, a major theme of Tuesday night’s elections, especially in Virginia, was women candidates successfully defending seats won in 2017.
The groups attribute the successful defense of the seats, as well as the new gains, to a strong political infrastructure and support system, which has, in turn, encouraged more women to run for office.
“It takes a number of elections to build up your volunteer base, to build up your name recognition, to understand how vital it is to fundraise so that you can communicate on TV and on this really big scale,” Delegate-elect Shelly Simmons (D), who won her race in the state’s 94th district, told reporters on Wednesday.
Tuesday also saw significant gains for women of color and LGBTQ women.
Former Tucson, Ariz., City Council member Regina Romero (D) became the first woman and first Latina mayor of the city on Tuesday.
Virginia Del. Danica Roem (D) made history again, becoming the first the first openly trans person to win reelection in a state legislature after winning office in 2017 as the first openly trans elected official.
Boston’s City Council, which has long been dominated by white men, saw its transformation to a body with a majority of females and a majority of people of color on Tuesday.
City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who won reelection to the body on Tuesday, said that women and women of color have benefitted from a support system starting with incumbent women.
“What we’re seeing is not only that women, they get into office, but we turn around and help each other get into office or get reelected,” Edwards said. “We’re creating a network and a pipeline, and also maintaining and pushing into leadership.”
The continuation of a diverse group women coming into elected office can be attributed to a number of factors, including a reaction to President Trump’s administration.
The first Women’s March, which took place one day after Trump’s inauguration in 2017, was seen as a starting point for the mass recruitment of women to run for office.
“We saw policies that have been put in place or rhetoric that [has] been talked about post-2016 in the Trump era that women have used to kind of spur their interest in getting involved and getting engaged,” Betsy Fischer Martin, director of American University’s Women in Politics Institute, said.
Virginia Sen.-elect Ghazala Hashmi, who became the first Muslim woman to be elected to the chamber on Tuesday, is an example of a woman candidate who ran as a result of a Trump administration policy, specifically the travel ban on several majority-Muslim nations.
“Having the president of the United States target a minority community in this way, was deeply concerning to me,” Hashmi told the Huffington Post. “I knew that more of us need to be visible and that we have to speak out.”
Democratic women candidates ran on a number of other platforms to forge connections with voters.
Gun control and universal background checks have proven to be a particularly prevalent issue in Virginia due to mass shootings that have taken place in the state.
“I think [it’s] an issue women are demanding action on right now,” Simmonds said.
“A lot of people when we knocked on doors were really fed up by the inaction of Republicans to do the most basic thing to protect communities from gun violence,” she continued. “We need to look at restrictive protective orders in Virginia. We need to do basic things like allow municipalities to keep guns out of school buildings.”
Heading into 2020, groups like Emerge have their eye on the expanding electoral map, targeting seats they see as winnable in the South and Southwest.
“We cannot forget how the map is expanding to places like New Mexico and Arizona,” Renteria said. “The infrastructure that we’ve been building is absolutely something that we’re working with the Democratic Party, and we look forward to working with every single presidential candidate. “