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Record Number of Women Running for Congress in 2012

Congressional Redistricting Opens Up Opportunities for Female Candidates


Updated September 19, 2012
Originally published September 12, 2012. Updated September 13, 2012.

No matter the outcome, the 2012 election has already broken records. This year more women are running for Congress in the general election than ever before. According to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, a total of 181 women are on the ballot for the 2012 election -- 163 women nominated by their parties for the House of Representatives and 18 women for the U.S. Senate.

Traditionally the Democratic Party far outstrips the Republican Party in fielding female congressional candidates, and this year is no exception.

More than twice the number of women running are Democrats as compared to Republicans. Final totals compiled by CAWP as of September 13, 2012, show that 116 Democrats and 47 Republicans are campaigning for the House; 12 Democrats and 6 Republicans are running for the Senate. This beats the record of 141 female congressional nominees (88 Democrats/53 Republicans) set in 2010, and 14 (6 Democrats/5 Republicans) in 2004.

Congress is currently 17% female with 90 women serving -- 73 in the House (49 Democrats/24 Republicans) and 17 in the Senate (13 Democrats/4 Republicans.) Additionally, three women -- non-voting delegates -- represent Washington DC, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

With the 2010 census prompting the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts which have led to the creation of new and open seats, CAWP director Debbie Walsh sees 2012 as a year of opportunity. To maximize that opportunity, CAWP established The 2012 Project, a campaign to identify, recruit and encourage more women to run for Congress this year. The 2012 Project website notes that "Reapportionment creates opportunity, and research shows that women have more success winning open seats."

There's already good news for women candidates. Even before primary season began, a previous record was broken. In 2010, 262 women filed to run for U.S. House seats and in 2012, 296 women filed. More than half of those female Congressional candidates (181) will be on the ballot on Election Day,

The record number of women running for Congress is a result of the efforts of many groups including The 2012 Project, but they're not stopping there. The national non-partisan campaign has now identified a new goal for Congress in the fall election, "20 Percent for 2012." The 2012 Project would like to see that governing body 1/5th female once the 2012 election results are in. The idea is not that far-fetched since a jump from 90 to 107 women in Congress would represent a three percentage point increase.

Walsh admits, "It's an ambitious goal but it's within reach -- so we're putting out the word that it's possible. The task is converting a record number of candidates into a record number of winners."

The increase in women in Congress has been steady but slow. Founder and director of the 2012 Project Mary Hughes wants to build momentum and move forward more rapidly. "We need to accelerate the pace of progress. It's time. Women are ready."

The group has identified exactly what needs to happen for "20 Percent for 2012" to be realized:

To reach 20 percent in the House, or 87 women, The 2012 Project is counting on:
  • 56 women incumbents certain to win;
  • 3 women incumbents likely to win;
  • 10 new women candidates almost certain to win;
  • and 27 incumbent women and new candidates running in competitive seats, of whom two-thirds would need to win.
The trend in greater numbers of women running for elected office unfortunately does not extend to this year's female candidates for governor. There are 11 gubernatorial races in 2012 but just four women filed to run. Only one, Democrat Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, survived the primary season and will be on the ballot this year. Hassan won her party's nomination over the only other female gubernatorial candidate who was still in the running -- former NH state senator Jackie Cilley. If Hassan doesn't win, for the first time in 17 years the U.S. will not have any Democratic woman serving as governor, although four Republican women who ran for governor and won in 2012 will remain in office.

Distaso, John. "It'll be Lamontagne vs. Hassan for NH governor." UnionLeader.com. 11 September 2012.
"Women Candidates for Senate, House Top Records." News release from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. 16 August 2012.
"Women Surpass House, Senate Candidate Records as Final November Slates are Set." News release from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. 13 September 2012.
"'20 Percent in 2012 Campaign' Seeks Biggest Spike for Women in Office Since 1992." News release from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. 4 September 2012.

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