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Women Candidates Finding Success In Early Primaries


A record number of women are running for Congress this year, and women candidates fared great in yesterday's primaries. NPR political reporter Daniel Kurtzleben has been tracking those results. She is here to put them in context. Hey, Danielle.


KELLY: OK, so a reminder - the four states that held primaries yesterday, and those four were Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina.

KURTZLEBEN: Correct, yeah.

KELLY: How did women do in those states?

KURTZLEBEN: They did pretty well, like you said. So in those four states, women made up - we're going to stick with House candidates here because they're easy to look at across states. So women made up around 1 in 5 House candidates across those states in all of those primaries. But women will be 1 in 3 House candidates on the general ballot. So it really looks like women punched above their weight, so to speak, last night. And this is data, I should say, from the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics. And one other aspect of that - women of color also did pretty well last night. Of the 27 women House nominees, eight are women of color, so nearly...

KELLY: Yeah, nearly a third.

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah, nearly a third. And this is all black women, and that's a good share, I should add, just compared to the share of residents in those states who are black women.

KELLY: OK. Too soon to say whether this might - what this might tell us going all the way forward into November and how 2018 will share up - will shape up particularly compared to past years.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. Well, I mean, one thing I should point out here is that, yes, there is this huge wave of women, but it's impossible to talk about this without talking about party, right? So among Democrats, that is where all of that enthuse - at least most of that enthusiasm really is. There's a fair amount among Republicans, but this big wave of women, we're really seeing among Democrats.

Now, as far as what this means for November, you can't really generalize out from one state to another. But broadly speaking, here's one thing we do know is that there are multiple reasons to think that women do have an advantage broadly speaking this year because, first of all, you know, like I said, this enthusiasm is among Democrats. And women candidates, pollsters tell me, represent change. And Democrats looking at a Republican Congress, they really want change. Aside from that, voters ascribe a lot of competence to women, especially Democratic women on the issue of health care. And health care is very important to Democrats this year.

Lastly, when you poll on this, Democrats more than Republicans care about the gender of their politicians Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say that the country would be better off with more women in Congress. So it stands to reason that, you know, Democratic women might have a bit of a leg up this year.

KELLY: Well, that premised my next question, which is a lot of women are running, so we know that they're enthusiastic about standing for political office. Are voters enthusiastic about voting them into political office?

KURTZLEBEN: I mean, once again, what we can do is go off the numbers, and last night, it looks like voters were relatively enthusiastic. That said, we can't really look at any particular race and say, yes, this woman's gender is what helped her. But once again, like I was saying, this evidence that we have on a partisan basis does seem to say that, you know, voters do seem to be, especially among Democrats, pretty enthusiastic about voting them in.

KELLY: OK. You - I wonder how you would square that with something I remember you saying on the show before, though. You came on and told us that there's all this enthusiasm, but your prediction was a lot of women candidates were going to lose in November. Do you still stand by that?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, I mean, there is reason to think that plenty of women candidates will lose and men for that matter. But, I mean, look, at the people that won in these four states last night, of the 20 non-incumbent women who won primaries, only two - two - are in races that are considered competitive in November. The rest are Democratic women running in safe Republican districts or Republican women running in safe Democratic districts. So it's just going to be a really uphill climb for a lot of these women of both parties and, to be honest, quite a few men from both parties.

KELLY: All right. Thanks, Danielle.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you.

KELLY: That's NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.
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