Nov. 9, 2017, Update: In Tuesday’s elections, women gained at least 10 seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, breaking the record of women representatives in the state.
Women have won at least 27 of the 100 delegate seats, compared with the 17 currently in office. In 2013, women held 19 seats, the previous ceiling for women in the House, according to Center for American Women and Politics statistics dating back to 1975.
Female candidates especially played a major role in helping Virginia’s Democrats. Women won two of the three open seats picked up by Democrats and can claim nine of the party’s 13 victories over Republican incumbents. As of Thursday afternoon, two districts with women candidates remained too close to call — leaving it unclear if Democrats would win control of the House. In District 27, Republican Roxanne Robinson leads by 124 votes, while Democrat Shelly Simonds trails by 12 votes in District 94.
In New Jersey, women lost at least one seat in the Legislature but two Assembly seats remain on the line. As of Thursday afternoon, District 8 was caught in a four-way-tie between two women Democrats, Maryann Merlino and Joanne Schwartz, and two Republican men, incumbent Joe Howarth and Ryan Peters.
If both Democrats win the two-person office, it would turn things around for women in New Jersey’s Legislature: instead of losing a seat, women would set a new record with 38 out of 120 seats. The previous record for women legislators in the state was set after the 2013 elections in which women won 37 seats, according to CAWP numbers.
But Republican Kim Guadagno was not able to make history as the second governor of the Garden State. Democrat Philip Murphy beat her by 14 percentage points, 56 percent to 42 percent, to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Chris Christie.
Nov. 6, 2017: This story has been corrected.
The most women candidates in at least a decade are on Tuesday’s ballot in Virginia and New Jersey — what may be the first glimpse of new political activism in the Trump era.
The two states are the only ones to hold major off-year elections in 2017, but they could provide a forecast of 2018, when thousands of seats nationwide are up for election in both federal and state races. The Virginia results, especially, could be a harbinger of what’s to come because the state’s electorate closely resembles the demographics of the country.
In the Old Dominion, 53 women are running for state office from lieutenant governor to delegate compared with 45 in the last election and 31 in 2013, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics.
New Jersey has 79 women on the ballot for state office, up from 72 in 2013, the last time both the General Assembly and state Senate were up for election.
In both states, 2017 represents the highest number of women candidates running for state office since at least 2007, according to the analysis.
But the ceiling for higher level office may still be hard to crack. While New Jersey has a woman on the ballot for governor, and both states have female candidates for lieutenant governor, New Jersey has had just one female governor in its past and Virginia has had none. This year may not change the history books much: New Jersey’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Republican Kim Guadagno lags in the polls.
Nationwide, preliminary numbers for the 2018 elections show 66 women have announced their candidacy or shown interest in running for governor, CAWP data show. This is more than the number of women who ran during the 2010 and 2014 elections combined.
Despite the increased numbers, though, some experts say surges of women running for office have occurred previously and it will take more to fill the gender gap in U.S. politics.
“Of course having more women candidates is going to help, but we need to look at the structures within that make it more viable for these candidates to actually make it into office,” said CAWP spokeswoman Chelsea Hill.