The so-called “Pink Wave” this election cycle, has a rather blue tint. Across the country, 278 women won major party nominations this year in the U.S. House, Senate and gubernatorial races, shattering previous records and setting the stage for a potential dramatic shift in the gender balance of national politics.
The so-called “Pink Wave” this election cycle, has a rather blue tint.
Across the country, 278 women won major party nominations this year in the U.S. House, Senate and gubernatorial races, shattering previous records and setting the stage for a potential dramatic shift in the gender balance of national politics.
Take for example the House congressional races. There are currently only 84 women in the U.S. House of Representatives (out of 435 total members total), but this year, including the 84 already in Congress, an astonishing 239 women are on the ballot for these seats.
In short, the House could look very different next year, especially on the Democratic side.
Of the 239 women nominated in Houses races, 187 are Democrats, and 52 are Republicans.
In the Senate primaries this year, Democratic voters nominated 15 women in states across the country, whereas Republicans nominated 8 women in senate races. The breakdown in gubernatorial races is similar.
Historically, women have tilted Democratic in their voting patterns, and the Trump administration seems to have only deepened those voter preferences.
According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, women who are registered to vote support Democratic candidates by a margin of 59 to 37 percent, while men split about evenly, 46 to 48 percent. Women also hold more negative views of the president. For example, 61 percent of women say they disapprove of his work in office, compared to 45 percent of men.
President Trump’s election was clearly a tipping point for Democratic women across the country to become more engaged in electoral politics.
In conversations with over a dozen first-time female Democratic candidates, ABC News heard similar stories about women feeling compelled to protest, organize and run for office in direct response to Hillary Clinton’s loss, the president’s treatment of women, and Republican policies on health care, government spending and family issues.
The groundswell of Democratic women entering politics this year come from diverse backgrounds and careers and bring with them wide-ranging expertise as doctors, former national security intelligence officers, veterans, teachers, and small business owners.
Liuba Grechen Shirley is a nonprofit leader and mother of two, who is running for office for the first time in a congressional, traditionally red district in Long Island, New York.
In an interview with ABC News last week, Grechen Shirley talked about the 2016 election as a “really difficult time.” She called her local Democratic Party office in Suffolk County, New York after President Trump was elected looking for a community and next steps.
“I wanted to know what the plan was. Nobody got back to me. And then I called the League of Women Voters and the woman on the phone said, “I sense the desperation in your voice, and I think this is your leadership moment.”
Gretchen Shirley said her frustration grew and in the early part of 2017, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
She organized a Facebook group, which quickly grew to over 3,000 people across her district. She sent out daily action alerts urging those in the group to call their congressman and write letters. When the incumbent congressman, Rep. Peter King, R-NY, supported the president’s “Muslim ban,” that drew hard and fast lines barring people from predominantly Muslim countries from coming to the U.S., she called for a last minute protest and 400 people showed up.
King later voted for the Republican health care bill, and refused to come to a town hall that Gretchen Shirley organized.
“I couldn’t not do it. And there were a lot of reasons that I shouldn’t do it, but in the end, I just had to,” Shirley told ABC News when talking about the beginning of her congressional run. “I couldn’t sit back and watch what was happening anymore.”
“Yes, it is the ‘Year of the Woman,’ but it is also the year of average everyday Americans who have just had enough. Most people don’t think about running for office. It’s usually for the elite, the people who are independently wealthy … But this is the kind of year where all kinds of people are just saying, ‘enough is enough.’ We’re going to fight back,” she said.
Muthoni Wambu Kraal, vice president of national outreach and training at EMILY’s List, told ABC News that Democratic women are feeling an “urgency” to create change in communities across the country.
Republicans have pointed out that they do have a number of strong female candidates this year, including several in more moderate and swing districts that Hillary Clinton won, such as Lea Marquez Peterson in the Tucson, Arizona area, Maria Elvira Salazar in Miami, Florida and Young Kim in Orange County, California.
Still, Matt Gorman, the Communications Director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, conceded that the party’s efforts to recruit women to run is an “ongoing project.”
“One of the things we learned when we started to focus on recruiting more women in 2012 and 2014 is that the recruiting process is not a two-year period. It can take two, four or six years to get some of these women in,” Gorman said. “Men are still much more likely to jump in, even on short notice.”
Gorman pushed back against the idea that the president had made it harder for the GOP to recruit women.
Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik from New York was appointed as recruiting chair for the party this cycle, to emphasize and encourage more female Republican candidates.
Matt Schlapp, a long-time Republican strategist agreed that recruiting a diverse set of candidates continued to be a challenge for the party.
When asked about the gender disparity between Democratic and Republican candidates during an episode of ABC News’ Powerhouse Politics podcast, Schlapp said that he thought it was an issue, and that the Republicans should keep focusing on it.
“I think the big thing I’ve learned in politics over the years is that, you know, you have to have a welcome mat. You have to be encouraging people,” he said.
“On both sides we have a system that might still be dominated by men, and I think we ought to wherever possible do everything we can to make sure we have diverse candidates that look like America. I want to be a part of a nationwide party not a regional party,” he added.
In recent years, identity politics have pushed the notion that all black Americans are Democrats, which is why many are surprised when they find out Francois is a Republican running for office in Florida’s 7th Congressional district, near Winter Park.
“Typically, African Americans tend to sway Democrat,” Francois told “Good Morning America.”
“I am an American first and foremost, and anything else is secondary, but my cultural background is Caribbean American,” she stated.
In the 2016 presidential election, only 8 percent of black voters voted for Donald Trump, with about 88 percent backing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, according to exit polls. Those numbers were reflected in Florida, a battleground state where non-whites made up 40 percent of voters, a group with which Clinton did very well.
Despite the numbers, Francois said she believes, morally, African Americans align with the Republican party.
“Majority of African Americans — they are conservative morally, conservative by nature, and I do believe we need representation on both sides of the aisle,” she said.
There are currently only three black Republican members of Congress.
Trump’s approval ratings among black Americans have been low — 92 percent of blacks disapprove of the president, according to a recent poll by the Associated Press/NORC. In Francois’ district, nearly 80 percent of residents identify as white, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Even though minorities make up a smaller portion of her district, she believes her party as a whole can do a better job of reaching out to blacks.
“I think the Republican party has just lost their messaging, and they feel that the Republican party just doesn’t come into their communities outside other than the fact that only when it’s time for an election,” she said. “We need to do better in reaching out to these communities.”
Francois, an attorney, is one of nine children and a first-generation American who was born and raised in Florida. Her parents immigrated from the Bahamas in the 1970s. At the time, her parents had six kids.
“They wanted to make sure their kids at the time had a better education, and so they decided to move,” she said. “But they did it legally, and they did it the right way.”
Francois says although her family’s journey to America has made her sensitive to issues surrounding immigration, she believes in strict border enforcement.
“Securing our borders is not only a national security issue, it’s also about our moral standing around the world, combating human trafficking as well as getting control with the proliferation of drugs that’s pouring over across our borders,” she said.
Still, she said it was “heart-wrenching” to see thousands of children being separated from their families at the border amid the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
“I do believe that families do need to stick together,” she said.
After immigrating to the United States, her parents settled in Orlando and became a part of their community through their church.
Now, that church community and her family and friends are helping Francois power her grassroots campaign that’s focused on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, securing a border wall and reforming federal student loan programs in a district that’s home to one of the nation’s largest schools, the University of Central Florida.
Francois is a first-time candidate at a time where there’s a wave of women running for office. The spike is largely on the Democratic side, with 350 women filing to run for the House compared with 118 Republicans, according to the Center for Women and American Politics at Rutgers University.
Francois was inspired to run after the current Democratic incumbent Rep. Stephanie Murphy claimed a marginal victory over former Rep. John Mica by just 3 points in 2016.
“I knew that someone had to step up,” she said.
Francois will face off against two other Republicans, Rep. Mike Miller and businessman Scott Sturgill, in the state’s Aug. 28 primary.
“I am the underdog,” she said, “but I am certainly getting out there and meeting the voters and letting them know who I am, and why I am the best person to win this race. And it’s all about who can beat the incumbent in November, and I know that I’m the only Republican candidate in this race that can and will.”