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Erin Zwiener

More on the national wave of female candidates

As the second Women’s March was taking place yesterday, there were stories in two national publications about the plethora of women running for office this year. Here’s TIME Magazine:

Erin Zwiener returned to Texas to settle down. At 32, she had published a children’s book, won Jeopardy! three times and ridden roughly 1,400 miles from the Mexico border up the Continental Divide on a mule. In 2016, she moved with her husband to a small house in a rural enclave southwest of Austin with simpler plans: write another book, tend her horses, paint her new home blue.

One day last February, she changed those plans. Zwiener was surfing Facebook after finalizing color samples for her living room–sea foam, navy, cornflower–when she saw a picture of her state representative, Jason Isaac, smiling at a local chamber of commerce gala. “Glad you’re having a good time,” she commented. “What’s your position on SB4?” After a tense back-and-forth about the Lone Star State’s controversial immigration law, Isaac accused her of “trolling” and blocked her. That’s when she decided to run for his seat. Zwiener never got around to painting her living room. She’s trying to turn her Texas district blue instead.

Zwiener is part of a grassroots movement that could change America. Call it payback, call it a revolution, call it the Pink Wave, inspired by marchers in their magenta hats, and the activism that followed. There is an unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates, overwhelmingly Democratic, running for offices big and small, from the U.S. Senate and state legislatures to local school boards. At least 79 women are exploring runs for governor in 2018, potentially doubling a record for female candidates set in 1994, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The number of Democratic women likely challenging incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives is up nearly 350% from 41 women in 2016. Roughly 900 women contacted Emily’s List, which recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women, about running for office from 2015 to 2016; since President Trump’s election, more than 26,000 women have reached out about launching a campaign. The group had to knock down a wall in its Washington office to make room for more staff.

It’s not just candidates. Experienced female political operatives are striking out on their own, creating new organizations independent from the party apparatus to raise money, marshal volunteers and assist candidates with everything from fundraising to figuring out how to balance child care with campaigns.

That story also quotes Lina Hidalgo, the Democratic candidate for Harris County Judge. I’ll get back to it in a minute, but first here’s The Cut, which is part of The New Yorker.

To date, 390 women are planning to run for the House of Representatives, a figure that’s higher than at any point in American history. Twenty-two of them are non-incumbent black women — for scale, there are only 18 black women in the House right now. Meanwhile, 49 women are likely to be running for the Senate, more than 68 percent higher than the number who’d announced at the same point in 2014.

To name-check just a fraction of these newly hatched politicians, there’s Vietnam-born Mai Khanh Tran, a California pediatrician and two-time cancer survivor vying for a House seat that’s been held by Republican Ed Royce for 13 terms. There’s military wife Tatiana Matta, who’s one of two Democrats trying to oust House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor, who hopes to show New Jersey representative Rodney Frelinghuysen the door. (Twenty-three-year congressional veteran Frelinghuysen is descended from a family once ranked the seventh-most-powerful American political dynasty: His father was a congressman, his great-great-grandfather and great-great-great-uncle were senators; his great-great-great-great-grandfather — also a senator — helped to frame New Jersey’s Constitution.)


Of course, in most fields, altering power ratios is neither swift nor easy. Even if men are pushed from their lofty perches, those waiting to take their places, the ones who’ve accrued seniority, expertise, and connections, are mostly men. Women who’ve been driven out or self-exiled from their chosen professions often cannot simply reenter them — as partners or managers or even mid-level employees.

This is one of the relative virtues of politics: It can be swiftly responsive to change. You can, in theory, run for local or state or even federal office, even if you’ve never been as much as a student-council secretary. If you’re a preschool teacher or a law professor or a sanitation worker, there will be substantial obstacles, yes — weaker networks, fund-raising disadvantages; party machinery, institutional obstruction, and identity bias to push past. Yes. But you can run. And if you win, whether the office is small or large, you might be able to shake things up. The people who control state and local legislatures often determine who in their communities gets to vote easily, who has access to health care or to legal sanctuary; local governing bodies around the country have in recent years passed legislation for paid leave and paid sick days and higher minimum wages.

It’s certainly true that the policies that are enacted depend on which women run and win — the country is full of Sarah Palins, not just Elizabeth Warrens. According to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, however, so far it’s the Warrens who are getting into the game. Of the 49 women currently planning to run for the Senate (including incumbents, challengers, and those running for open spots), 31 are Democrats. Well over half of the 79 women slated to campaign for governor are Dems, as are 80 percent of the women setting their sights on the House.

This past fall’s elections — in which Danica Roem, a 33-year-old transgender woman, handily beat an incumbent who’d authored a transphobic bathroom bill and dubbed himself the state’s “chief homophobe”; in which Ashley Bennett, a 32-year-old psychiatric-emergency screener from New Jersey bumped off the Atlantic County freeholder who’d mocked the Women’s March by asking whether protesters would be home in time to cook his dinner — showed that improbable wins by improbable candidates are possible, perhaps especially if they can convert anger and frustration at the ways in which they’ve been discriminated against into electoral fuel.

This one has a companion piece that lists ten women to watch for. Two of them are by now familiar names from Texas: Laura Moser and Gina Ortiz Jones. The bit about Moser notes that she has Lizzie Fletcher as a primary opponent, and if you look at the embedded image, taken from the main story, you’ll see three of their pictures. Moser and Fletcher, along with Hidalgo, are on the TIME cover. I am as always delighted to see our candidates receive attention, but I wonder a little about how the decision is made about on whom to focus. Moser, Fletcher, and Jones are all strong candidates with good stories and fundraising to match, but as I noted before, the women who are most likely to make it to Congress from Texas are Sylvia Garcia and one of Veronica Escobar and Dori Fenenbock, none of whom have received a tiny fraction of the love from the press. I mean, there’s a non-trivial chance none of the three Texans in the Cut picture will be on the ballot in November – only two of them can be no matter what – and a larger chance none of them will get sworn in if they are. Maybe it’s because the three I’m noting are all current officeholders, though in that Cut companion piece three of the ten women featured are incumbents of some kind and one or two others are former Obama administration officials. I get that the women had previously been less engaged with the process are now the biggest part of the story, I just feel like the amount of attention they’re getting relative to what those who had been there before are getting is a bit skewed. It’s not that big a deal – I strongly suspect that once Sylvia Garcia is the nominee in CD29, possibly joined by Escobar in CD16, there will be a flurry of articles about the first Latina member(s) of Congress from Texas. It was just something I thought about as I read these. You should read them, too.

Opinions differ about Congressional prospects

I’m gonna boil this one down a bit.

Todd Litton

Moments before the polls closed in Virginia’s Democratic sweep, Houston-area Republican Ted Poe, across the Potomac River on Capitol Hill, announced his retirement in 2018 after 14 years in Congress.

Poe cast his move Tuesday night as a personal decision: “You know when it’s time to go,” he told the Chronicle. “And it’s time to go, and go back to Texas on a full-time basis.”

But a wave of retirement announcements from Texas Republicans in both Congress and the Legislature already had sparked a lot of speculation that the pendulum of power might swing against the GOP, even possibly to some degree in a deep red state like Texas.

Poe and other Republicans dismissed that notion, arguing that their prospects in 2018 are strong, particularly in the Senate, where 10 Democratic incumbents face the voters in states won by President Donald Trump.

Democrats, however, celebrated Ralph Northam’s victory over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s hard-fought governor’s race as the start of an anti-Trump wave that could only grow as the president’s approval ratings continue to sink.

However coincidental, Poe’s announcement – following those of Texas U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, Jeb Hensarling and Sam Johnson – seemed to add to the buzz.


Democratic hopeful Todd Litton, a nonprofit executive in Poe’s district, has raised more than $256,000 for the race, outpacing Poe’s fundraising in the three-month period between April and June.

Poe, however, called the suggestion that he is running away from a tough reelection “nonsense.” He noted that he won reelection last year with 61 percent of the vote, a substantially better showing than Trump, who won 52 percent of the district’s vote for president.

“I don’t appeal to people on the party label,” said Poe, a former teacher, prosecutor and judge. “I appeal based on who I am.”


David Crockett, a political scientist at San Antonio’s Trinity University, said the question lingering after Virginia’s election results: Is this the beginning of something different?

“Texas is still pretty red, but the result of all these retirements could be opportunity for a Democrat in the right circumstances,” he said. “It’s always easier for an opposition party to pick off an open seat … but I still think we’re a decade away from any significant change.”

Texas Democrats, for the most part, have their sights set on Hurd, Sessions and Culberson, whose districts went to Clinton in 2016. Recent internal polling also has bolstered their hopes of flipping the suburban San Antonio district where Smith is retiring.

Around Houston, it would take a pretty big wave for Poe’s 2nd Congressional District to fall into the Democratic column, but in the current political climate, some analysts say, who knows?

“I wouldn’t go to Las Vegas and bet on it,” said Craig Goodman, a political scientist at the University of Houston in Victoria. “But every election cycle, there’s always one or two districts where you’re like, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’ Maybe the 2nd would be that district.”

CDs 02 and 21 were more Democratic in 2016 than they were in 2012, and the retirements of Ted Poe and Lamar Smith will make them at least a little harder to defend in 2018 than they would have been. They’re not in the same class as CDs 07, 23, and 32, but a sufficient wave could make them competitive. Another factor to keep in mind is who wins the Republican primaries to try to hold them? Some candidates will be tougher than others, and in this day and age it’s hardly out of the question that the winner in one of these primaries could be some frothing Trump-or-die type that no one has heard of who might have trouble raising money and turn voters off.

There’s another point to consider, which is that some of the candidates who run for these now-open Congressional seats may themselves be holding seats that would be more vulnerable without an incumbent to defend them. For instance, State Rep. Jason Issac has announced his candidacy in CD21. Isaac’s HD45 went for Trump by less than five points and with under 50% of the vote; it was typically more Republican at the downballot level, but still shifted a bit towards the Dems from 2012 to 2016. Erin Zwiener is the Democratic challenger in HD45. As for CD02, it is my understanding that State Rep. Kevin Roberts, the incumbent in HD126, is looking at CD02. HD126 was about as Republican in 2016 as CD02 was, so if Roberts changes races that will open up another Republican-favored-but-not-solid seat. We’ll know more when the filings come in, but that’s what I’d keep my eye on. Candidates matter, and the Dems have been rounding them up for months now. Republicans are just getting started in these districts. They have less margin for error.