Three Questions on Women in U.S. Politics with Julie Conway
GMF Senior Fellow and Brussels Deputy Director Corinna Hörst sat down with Julie Conway, Executive Director of VIEW PAC (Value In Electing Women Political Action Committee) and President of Shamrock Advisors, to discuss women in the U.S. political landscape and what can be done to encourage them to run for office.
How do you encourage more women to run for office? What are the main challenges in this respect?
I think the biggest challenge for women running for office is knowing how to run for office. I think a lot of people would consider running if the process wasn’t so mysterious. There’s a huge misconception that you have to be incredibly involved with politics, with party politics, and start locally at the smallest of levels to run for office before you can consider running for higher office, whether it’s a mayor or a governor, let alone a U.S. House seat or a U.S. Senate seat. I think that this mindset is changing, that you don’t actually have to start out at a certain place to be successful—you just have to be passionate about running and know where you can best serve your community. Sometimes it is at the local level, but if your interests are more at the national level running for the U.S. House is a fine place to start. And there are resources to help you run, you just need to reach out and be pointed in the right direction. The other challenge with getting more women to run is the thought that it’s really challenging to one’s family, which is certainly true but it should be challenging for men to run for the same reasons. Yet women often take more responsibility in that. I think the acceptance that not only is it okay for women to run but that we need women to run and that it’s critically important to have more women in office, I think this is changing.
In 2018, what made female candidates so successful during the midterm elections?
The 2018 midterm elections were tremendously important for women running for office because a lot of women won. It was not a magical election, rather one that had been a long time coming. There has been a lot of work done to create the foundation for success and a lot of progress made in years past; encouraging women to run in the first place, and when women are not successful encouraging then to get back on the horse and run again. In the last cycle, there was a lot of focus on women candidates and how the landscape was changing. Interestingly, it was women running as individuals and not as a group that made them successful. In the past women have been very much lumped together as merely female candidates versus looking at what each of these individual women were bringing to the contest, whether they were Republicans or Democrats, whether they had a military background or business background or medical background. That’s what was highlighted and that’s what was focused upon—the experience they would bring to elected office. There were very few “career politicians” who were successful. That’s because people want problem solvers, not career politicians; they want people who have real-life experience that they can relate to, and the women who were successful in 2018 brought that not only to the table in their campaigns but people celebrated it. And they were running good races, they had great people around them, and they were very articulate in explaining why they were going to be the best candidate for office. And most women did not run leading with being women, they led with their experience and it was a bonus that they happened to be a woman and brought that diversity.
Out of the one 126 women in Congress, only 13 are Republican. In your view how can this number be increased?
We are working very hard to increase the number of Republican women serving in Congress. Last year was not a good year for Republican women on the federal level. I feel as though 2020 is going to be a much better year and I have a lot of reasons to believe that. Primarily we already have a greater number of women looking to run in 2020 than we did in 2018. And they are also looking to run in seats that are winnable, meaning the vast majority of these women want to run in seats that were lost in the last cycle. In the US Congress there are only about 50 swing seats that go back and forth, and for the women that we have running in this cycle the challenge of being in a winnable district is already put to the side. Now we can focus on them getting their message out, campaigning, and making sure people know what they stand for and what they’ll do differently than the incumbent. The other challenge on the Republican side is that Republican men now understand better the need for Republican women, especially in the House where we only have 13 Republican women serving. The Republicans are in the minority now in the House, and I think a lot of the male members now understand that the only path back to the majority is by supporting more Republican women and helping them be successful, raise money, and get their names out there, and working collaboratively to have them be victorious and working more as a team.
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