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Women of Color Are Running for Office in Record Numbers

The number of women of color running for Congress has increased by 75 percent since 2012.

New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (center) stands with Boston City Councilor and Democratic congressional candidate Ayanna Pressley (right) at a rally calling on Sen. Jeff Flake to reject Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court on October 1, 2018, in Boston, Massachusetts.

White men make up only a third of the United States population, but they represented two thirds of political candidates and elected officeholders at all levels of government from 2012 to 2016.

The upcoming midterm elections could change all that.

The number of women running for office at all levels of government in 2018 has increased dramatically compared to recent election cycles, according to a new analysis by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, a group dedicated to building a political system that reflects constituents of diverse backgrounds. Women of color have made the greatest gains, with the number of women of color running for both Congress and state legislative seats up 75 percent from 2012.

Democrats are largely responsible for the demographic shift, and the party’s slate of candidates for Congress is beginning to reflect the actual demographics of the country after decades of white male political dominance. The number of Democratic women who won congressional primaries this year is up 46 percent from 2012, and white men represent less than half (41 percent) of all Democrats running for Congress. Almost all of the women of color running for Congress are Democrats.

The number of Democratic women running for state governor positions increased by 67 percent from 2012, while the number of Democratic candidates of color running for governor has tripled. Meanwhile, the number of candidates of color running for governor on Republican tickets decreased, leaving the pool of Republican candidates almost exclusively white and male.

Overall, the number of white men running for Congress has decreased by 13 percent since 2012, and the number running for state legislatures is down 12 percent, according to the report. The number of men of color running for Congress and state legislative seats increased by 8 and 13 percent, respectively.

The demographic shifts come after years of bitter partisan disputes over voter suppression and racial gerrymandering, particularly in the South and states where Republicans have control of the legislature. The increases in women and candidates of color running for office also coincides with a growing backlash against the Trump administration and a wave of progressive candidates that have challenged mainstream Democrats from the left.

“Many of the issues that we hear about in the news, and what Trump is and isn’t doing [about them] — they directly and disproportionately impact women and communities of color,” said Stefanie Brown James, co-founder of Collective PAC, a political action committee supporting Black political candidates nationwide.

However, efforts were underway to increase the number of Black women and women of color on the ballot well before Trump took office. James said Black women represent a loyal voting base for Democratic and progressive candidates, but they traditionally receive the least amount of funding and support when they launch their own campaigns. Now, political strategists are trying to close the gap by raising campaign funds for women of color and building support networks between their campaigns.

“Women and Black women especially felt as though they didn’t have support to build the infrastructure necessary for running for office,” James said. “Therefore, with them being able to understand and feel that they have the support and seeing other Black women successfully running, I think that has played a tremendous role in increasing the number of Black women running for office.”

Jamaa Bickley-King, director of the New Virginia Majority, a group building power for working class communities of color in Virginia, said the increase in women of color running for office is the result of funders and new political actors such as Collective PAC and Black PAC dedicating resources to that very goal.

“While I am pleased with the increases, I would like to see more people of color — especially women of color — who are running for office to get more resourcing and support,” Bickley-King said in an email. “The same financial gaps in resourcing that plague people of color in getting start-up funding for companies and other projects exists in greater numbers and greater deficits in political fundraising.”

The number of women running for Congress is up 44 percent overall since 2012, with a 22 percent increase in Republican women and 25 percent increase in independent women running this year, according to the Reflective Democracy Campaign. Of the 43 states examined by the group, 36 saw an increase in women candidates running for legislative seats in 2018. In four states — South Carolina, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and California — women running for state office increased by 50 percent from the last campaign cycle.

Additionally, a record number of LGBTQ candidates have also run for office throughout the 2018 election cycle, including 21 openly LGBTQ candidates who have won Democratic primaries and are currently vying for House or Senate seats, according to a recent report from the Victory Fund, a group that promotes LGBTQ candidates for public office. A record seven LGBTQ Democrats ran for governor this year, and four have won the party’s nomination.

The Republican party has not nominated any openly LGBTQ candidates for governor this election cycle, and there are no openly LGBTQ Republican candidates for Congress on the general election ballot for the first time since 2010.


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