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Women file to run for US House seats in record numbers

Candidate Dady wants female voices heard

Sara Dady
Sara Dady

The number of women running for the U.S. House of Representatives set a record Thursday.

Their ranks will continue to swell, with candidate filing periods remaining open in more than half the states, according to an Associated Press report.

Among those putting their name on the ballot is Sarah Dady, a Rockford attorney and Democrat running against incumbent Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon.

Dady said there were many motivating factors in running, including a belief women’s voices weren’t being heard by elected officials.

“I’m a mother, wife, daughter, sister and business owner,” Dady said. “I volunteer a lot of my time in my community. A lot of women have roles likes that.

“We’re bread winners. We make sure the children are fed, their homework is done, the bills are paid. We volunteer in our schools. We wear a lot of hats.”

A surge of women into this year’s midterm elections had been expected since the Women’s March demonstrations nationwide just after President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

Dady called the election of Trump another motivating factor, citing disrespectful comments toward women during his campaign. She cited her opponent’s record of voting in line with Trump. FiveThirtyEight said Kinzinger voted in step with Trump 98.5 percent of the time.

“We want to elect someone who will work for us, not against us,” Dady said of women voters. “We don’t want someone to be passive. We don’t want them to be reactive, but active and proactive. We want nothing less.”

After Virginia released its candidate list Thursday, a total of 309 women from the two major parties have filed candidacy papers to run for the House. That tops the previous record of 298 in 2012.

The AP analyzed data going back to 1992 from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University and did its own review of candidate information released by the states. While more than half the nation’s population is female, four out of every five members of the U.S. House are men. The women’s candidacies won’t necessarily change that.

They still have to survive party primaries and win the general election, often against an incumbent with name recognition and a large reservoir of campaign cash.

That will be the case for Dady, who will face cash-strapped Kinzinger, in a traditionally red district.

The combined votes in the Republican primary were 65,520, well more than the Democrats’ 41,663 districtwide.

John Jackson, a political science professor at Southern Illinois University, referred to the increase in women running for House seats a necessary first step, but he said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach on if it will wind up in a full-blown movement.

“It’s hard to say what possible effect it might have on politics,” Jackson said in a phone interview with The Times. “In 1992, it was the year of the woman when Carol Moseley Braun was elected senator, but the change was incremental, not revolutionary.”

A previous surge of women running for Congress came in 1992, in the wake of Anita Hill’s testimony alleging sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas, who was then a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Senate committee weighing his nomination was all-male. That year was labeled the “Year of the Woman” because women were elected to the U.S. House and Senate in record numbers.

In recent years, the number of women in Congress has held steady in large part because the number of women running hasn’t increased substantially from year to year.

Even with the record numbers, women are still outnumbered by male candidates. But experts say the sheer number of women running combined with so many House seats open due to retirements or resignations provides one of the best opportunities for women to make real gains in terms of representation and a change in priorities.

Jackson said if women are successful in gaining seats, there may be a backlash from opposing voters.

“That’s usually the way it goes in politics,” Jackson said. “Things change incrementally. There’s still a long way to go.”

Many of the female candidates have focused their campaign messages on health care, education, early childhood development, family leave and workplace equality.

The #metoo movement, sparked by the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal, also played a role in the climate.

“I think there’s a number of factors,” said Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the University of Illinois, in a phone interview with The Times. “There’s probably a reaction to Hillary Clinton’s defeat and a determination to get more balance in legislature.”

Gaines said studies show in instances where a woman candidate’s party has a good chance of winning, they have fared just as well as men.

Currently, there are 83 women in the U.S. House, out of 435 seats. Campaigns for the House aren’t the only ones drawing high interest from female candidates this year.

Forty women are running so far in governors’ races, a total that already surpassed the previous record of 34 in 1994. And 29 women are on ballots for U.S. Senate races, a number that will grow as filing deadlines approach in more states. The record number of female Senate candidates is 40, set in 2016. Illinois is represented by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who unseated Mark Kirk last year.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

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