Melissa: You're back with The Takeaway.
This year there were 506 contests for Governor, US Senate, and US House. Of those, 45 were pretty special because they featured two or more women candidates running against one another. These races are what we've been calling SHE-lections, which of course is a partnership between us here at The Takeaway and the Center for American Women in Politics with support in part from the MI Foundation for women.
I spoke on Wednesday morning with Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University. Now, before we get to our SHE-lections, let's just look at some of the women who made history last night more broadly Republican, Sarah Huckabee Sanders becoming the first woman governor elected in Arkansas. Who else?
Debbie: Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the first woman elected in Arkansas. Also, the first woman to follow in her father's footsteps as a governor. She also will be one of the first two governors to have a woman lieutenant governor elected at the same time. The other state that made some history is Maura Healey in Massachusetts. She is the first woman elected governor in that state. There has been a woman governor before, but she is the first one elected.
She is also the first openly lesbian governor in US history, and she also will have a woman lieutenant governor serving with her. We have that history there. Kathy Hochul in New York is the first woman elected as governor.
Kathy Hochul has been the governor, but she ascended to that position through the line of succession, and now she has been elected in her own right. The big one for me in terms of history, which has been one that's haunted me for quite a while now is for 18 years since 2004 we first set the record of nine women serving as governor at any one time.
As of right now, there have been nine states where women of races for governor have been called, but there are still two outstanding races. Two of our SHE-lection races in Oregon and Arizona, that no matter who wins there, there will be a woman governor, so we'll be at least 11. Laura Kelly, the incumbent in Kansas, that races as of this taping is still too close to call but, she is slightly ahead. We could actually have 12 women serving as governor which is not enough, but it certainly finally breaks that nine number that we've been stuck at for quite a while.
Melissa: I'll point out to folks that it can be hard to see it in our most recent elections where we've had someone who'd never held elected office, and we've had these senators, but typically part of the reason the governor's, mansions matter so much is that the gubernatorial route has typically been the route to the US presidency.
I know so many of us who study women and politics, women candidates in American politics have been counting that gubernatorial number in part because that is where we expected the first woman president someday to emerge.
Debbie: Right. It is that bench. I think now given the politics of the country, we're also looking at states in a very different way. We're focusing on the policies that are getting decided at the state level, particularly when we think about reproductive rights. Those governorships really matter. We're watching that level of office in particular even more.
Melissa: Let's go to one of our SHE-lections. Let's go to Michigan. What did you see there? What stories are you taking from that one?
Debbie: Well, I think that was a really interesting race with Gretchen Whitmer and Tudor Dixon. I think in some ways we are seeing, again, the abortion story playing out there. Abortion was literally on the ballot there, with the whole issue of making sure that abortion rights were protected within the Michigan constitution. Gretchen Whitmer really ran hard, really leaned into the abortion issue in her race and won with it. Won against a DeVos family-endorsed candidate, very powerful Republican family in the state of Michigan.
Tudor Dixon was also supported by Donald Trump and she really prevailed. She was a woman governor who really took a lot of heat through covid faced political violence with a threatened kidnapping on attempted kidnapping of her. She really prevailed and I think her leaning into some of these issues, particularly the abortion issue, paid off for her in the end.
Melissa: Kansas, one of the SHE-lections that we looked at, the third US District in Kansas, and Sharice David's won there. You want to say a few words about that?
Debbie: Yes. Kansas was this early alert in the pro-choice community when a very red state, a state that is considered a very red state came out when abortion, again, was literally on the ballot in that election. In terms of preserving a woman's right to access to reproductive health and surprised everyone with how resounding the support was for abortion rights. Sharice Davis also leaned into that against a conservative Republican, someone who tried to paint herself as an outsider, but in fact, had been very connected in Republican politics and prevailed.
Melissa: Right. Take a quick break with me here. We're going to be right back on The Takeaway with more about our SHE-lections. [music] You're back with The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. We're still talking with Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University. As we're beginning to wrap up our series about these races, we've been calling SHE-lections, where all of the candidates in the general election are women.
I say, Debbie, we're just starting to wrap it up because as you name-checked a bit earlier, there are a couple of big SHE-lections still out there to be decided. Can we zero in for a moment on Oregon and of course on Arizona?
Debbie: Sure. Oregon is one of those super SHE-lections where we have three women who are running for governor, Tina Kotek, the Democrat, Christine Drazan, the Republican, and then Betsy Johnson, who was a Democrat who is now running as an independent. That's going to be a while before we found out about that race. They'll be counting ballots in Oregon. It's all mail-in and anything postmarked. As of yesterday, they're counting through, I think the 12th for quite a bit. It's going to be a while till we know that.
As of the taping right now, Tina Kotek appears to be a little bit ahead, but Betsy Johnson, is garnering enough votes that she could, in fact, while not win, she could determine the outcome of that race. If Tina Kotek were to win, she would also be along with Maura Healey, one of the first two openly lesbian governors in US history.
Melissa: There were many things that felt like a return to normal. In Tuesday night's elections, there had been a lot of concern that there would be intimidation or voter suppression efforts at the polls. For the most part, we did not see that across the country. To the extent that there was a spot where we saw an emergence of disinformation and anxiety, it was in Maricopa County. The votes there have been counted but nonetheless, that race, that SHE-lection in Arizona, at least as of Wednesday morning remains undecided. What did we learn in that race?
Debbie: That was one of the most dramatic races in many ways. You had Katie Hobbs who was the Secretary of State, and the person who really was on the front line in the vote counting in 2020 in the presidential race, running against Kari Lake, who is a former television news person very polished, and in fact many ways seen as this very polished version of Donald Trump. She has been one of the frontline election deniers. She put out there right early on that if she didn't win, it was because the election was rigged. When you think about going back to normal, Melissa, I think Kari Lake is very much trying to continue on the legacy of Donald Trump, and we will see where that goes in that state. Right now, that race is quite close. Again, I think it's going to be a while before all of those votes are counted and that race gets called. Katie Hobbs made a strategic decision not to debate Kari Lake.
The question will be, was that the right decision or not? I think a lot of talks will be made after the fact once that race is decided about whether that was a good decision or not. She also did not campaign as heavily as I think many Democrats wanted her to and so we'll see how her candidacy played out against the candidacy of Kari Lake.
Melissa: No African American woman has ever been elected governor of any US state, and that is going to remain true here in 2022. Despite the fact that there were a record number of black women vying for the position of governor in Iowa, in Georgia. Talk to me a bit about that continued reality.
Debbie: That is a frustration. We did have a record number of Black women nominees this time for governor. When Stacey Abrams was nominated last time for governor, she was the first ever and the only. This time we saw more but still none getting elected. I think the race that folks thought there was the most potential was the Stacey Abrams race in Georgia, and the challenge there is she was running as a challenger. That's really hard.
It was a year where you saw in the Senate returns and the gubernatorial returns where again, the challenger on the Senate side underperformed. Reverend Warnock was clearly doing better than Stacey Abrams was, and he was the incumbent. It is a real frustration and it has been a challenge, and we need to see more Black women, more women of color nominated, running for these statewide offices. What we're looking at in terms of these record number of women governors, there will only be one Latina serving, Michelle Lujan Grisham from New Mexico.
No Asian American, Pacific Iser women, no Native American women, no black women this time. It is still the challenge that is left out there. When you think about it, when these women are running for chief executive, they are really disrupting that image of what a top leader looks like. We've never elected a woman president of the United States. It's been very tough getting these women elected as governor. I think it is because in part this disruption of our image of who leads at that very highest level.
The image is white and male and so it is, I think, doubly hard for women of color when they try to break through because it is breaking through in more than one way. It is breaking through on gender and breaking through on race.
Melissa: We are still at the very early hours of being able to analyze any kind of exit poll results. I wonder if there are ways that we saw women show up in 2022 in these midterm races as voters that was at all surprising. If what we really just saw was a kind of return to relatively normal partisanship where Republican women voted about like Republican men, and that Democratic women voted about like democratic men.
Debbie: As you say, Melissa, we still have to really dig into some of this exit poll data. It's going to get waited and rewaited. [laughs] I've seen some very early numbers that show that among the voters who were backing Democrats, 44% said abortion was the top issue for them. We're going to really be watching and seeing how did these issues play out, abortion versus inflation. It certainly looks like the leaning in that the Democrats did on the abortion issue may well have paid off in a number of races.
Melissa: Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University. They are our partners in the SHE-lection series. Again, we spoke on Wednesday morning.
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