A Record Number of Women Are Running for Congress

Supermajority Education Fund

May 26, 2020

A record number of women have filed to run for Congress this year to date, according to a new analysis from Rutgers University’s Center For American Women in Politics (CAWP). The center found that 490 women candidates have filed to run in 2020 so far, a number that could increase as the filing periods for 14 states have yet to close. The previous record was set in 2018 when 476 women ran for Congress, and a historic number won seats in the midterm election. 

“We were encouraged by seeing an increasingly positive trend when it comes to women’s candidacies because that is vital to their overall office holding,” Kelly Dittmar, Director of Research and Scholar at CAWP, told Supermajority News. “We need more women to run in order to see more women win and hold office.”

Dittmar noted that one factor that makes the 2020 election different from the 2018 midterms is that a larger number of women candidates are Republican; 195 Republican women have filed so far. “This year, Republican women have already broken their record for the highest number of Republican women to file for US House seats and pretty significantly,” Dittmar said. Dittmar attributed much of those gains to the fact that candidates were recruited to challenge incumbents in the Democratic-led House. 

But while Dittmar stresses CAWP researchers have not done an in-depth analysis of how messaging and discussion of gender differ between Democratic and Republican women candidates, “there is definitely a partisan difference in the ways in which Republican women and Democratic women navigate gender dynamics on the trail.” 

Republican women candidates, Dittmar noted, tend not to talk about gender or gender-specific issues overtly. For example, Republican women candidates are “far less likely” to talk about the underrepresentation of women in the American political sphere, even when they are the first woman to run for office in a particular district, Dittmar said, adding, “you could argue that it is because the party itself has said ‘we don’t play identity politics.’” 

By contrast, many Democratic women candidates discuss gender and gender-related issues as central reasons as to why they should be elected to Congress. “While they don’t say, ‘vote for me because I am a woman,’” Dittmar noted, “What they say is ‘as a woman,’ or, ‘as a Black woman,’ or ‘as a sexual assault survivor’ ⁠—which are distinctively gendered experiences ⁠— ‘I bring a distinct perspective and value to policymaking.’”

Because these Democratic candidates make their experiences as women central parts of their campaigns, “they are also saying ‘my own lived experience, which includes experiences that are tied to my gender, are important to have at decision-making tables,’” Dittmar explained.