Mass retirements mean more women in Congress

33 members of Congress have announced their plans to retire outright in 2018, 29 of whom are men. Women are running in nearly every congressional race where an incumbent man is retiring, presenting American voters with a historic opportunity to make significant gains for gender parity in Congress.

Our Congress is currently 80% male and 81% white. In 2016, 97% of incumbent members of the House of Representatives and 93% of incumbent U.S. Senators who ran for re-election succeeded. More than any other factor, incumbency has kept women and people of diverse backgrounds out of Congress.  hardware-store-square

Incumbents are reelected time and again not because they are necessarily the best for the job, but because of inherent political advantages. Incumbents have “greater financial resources, more press coverage, more experienced campaign operations, past campaign outreach to voters, and ongoing delivery of constituent services for their districts,” according to FairVote, a nonpartisan champion of electoral reform.

But 2018 could be a moment of opportunity for women’s electoral gains. More women are running for Congress than ever before, with 439 possible women candidates for Congress this year. While women of both parties could pick up seats, Democratic women are running for the House of Representatives at a rate of 4:1 compared to Republican women. 64 women are running for the 32 seats made open through retirement, with additional candidacies still possible.

But the real question is not whether women are ready to run and lead, but whether voters are ready to elect them. In the majority of primaries nationwide, women continue to be vastly outnumbered by male challengers. In order to see women’s names on ballots come November’s general election, Americans need to vote for women in primaries. This means voting for a qualified woman even when she is running against men who could do the job. It means supporting the woman candidate who is as good as her male competition and not demanding that she be better—though she may be.

In California’s 39th district, where Republican Ed Royce is retiring, Democrat Mai Khanh Tran is running alongside six formidable Democratic primary challengers, all men. Her male challengers include Sam Jammal, a former Obama administration employee, and Gil Cisneros, a Navy veteran and lottery winner. Tran came to the United States as a child refugee from Vietnam, attended Harvard College while working as a janitor to pay tuition, and went on to become an emergency room physician and cancer researcher. If elected, she will be the only female doctor in Congress.

In New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, where Republican Frank LoBiondo is retiring after twelve terms, three Democratic candidates are vying to flip the Republican-held seat blue. Only one challenger is a woman: Tanzie Youngblood. Youngblood is a public servant who taught for more than 30 years. She’s also a widow and military motheDSC_6904-300x200r who understands the sacrifices of our armed service members and their families. Her primary challengers include Sean Thom, a school administrator, and Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey State Senator. If elected, she would be the first Black woman ever to represent New Jersey’s 2nd in Congress.

Four women are running in Texas’s 29th District, where Democrat Gene Green is retiring. Candidates include Democrat Sylvia Garcia, who was the first Hispanic and first woman elected to the Harris County Commissioner’s Court as a judge and has served three terms in the Texas State Senate. She has received the endorsement of Representative Green.

Only three districts where a man is vacating a seat have all male candidates in primaries, with time remaining for women to file to run in each: Pennsylvania’s 9th, represented by Republican Bill Shuster, Michigan’s 13th, represented by Democrat John Conyers, and Mississippi’s 3rd, represented by Republican Gregg Harper.

Changing the composition of Congress will not be easy. It will require voters to address their unconscious biases—the lenses through which they evaluate candidates running against each other. Research suggests some groups of voters are influenced by internalized sexism while most have inherent biases that impact how they view women in politics. Despite the advancement of many women into prominent political positions, women still face challenges when convincing parties and voters they’re the best for the job.

Even if a woman is elected to each of the 33 seats of retiring members of Congress, women would comprise only 25% of Congress. Bringing “power to the polls” isn’t just about women showing up to vote, it’s about seizing the opportunity to overcome a significant barrier to women’s representation in Congress by electing women to these soon-to-be-vacant seats.


Bob Corker (R), Senator from Tennessee: Marsha Blackburn (R)

Jeff Flake (R), Senator from Arizona: Kyrsten Sinema (D), Deedra Abboud (D), Che Fowler (D), Kelli Ward (R), Martha McSally (R)

Orrin Hatch (R), Senator from Utah: Jenny Wilson (D)

Al Franken (D), Senator from Minnesota: Tina Smith (D), Karin Housley (R)


Bob Goodlatte (R), Virginia 6th district: Cynthia Dunbar (R)

Jeb Hensarling (R), Texas 5th district: Bunni Pounds (R)

Darrell Issa (R), California 49th district: Sara Jacobs (D), Dianne Harkey (R)

Joe Barton (R), Texas 6th district: Ruby Faye Woolridge (D), Jana Lynn Sanchez (D), Deborah Gagliardi (R)

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R), Florida 27th district: Mary Barzee Flores (D), Kristen Rosen Gonzalez (D), Angie Chirino (R), Bettina Rodriguez-Aguilera (R), Gina Sosa-Suarez (R), Maria Peiro (R)

Lamar Smith (R), Texas 21st district: Mary Wilson (D), Susan Narvaiz (R)

Charlie Dent (R), Pennsylvania 15th district: Laura Quik (D), Susan Ellis Wild (D)

Dave Reichert (R), Washington State 8th district: Shannon Hader (D), Mona Das (D), Kim Schrier (D)

Pat Tiberi (R), Ohio 12th district: Carol O’Brien (R)

Frank LoBiondo (R), New Jersey 2nd district: Tanzie Youngblood (D)

Lynn Jenkins (R), Kansas 2nd district: Kelly Standley (D), Caryn Tyson (R)

Sam Johnson (R), Texas 3rd district: Lorie Burch (D)

John Duncan Jr. (R), Tennessee 2nd district: Renee Hoyos (D)

Ted Poe (R), Texas 2nd district: Silky Malik (D), Kathaleen Wall (R)

Dave Trott (R), Michigan 11th district: Haley Stevens (D), Fayrouz Saad (D) Kristine Bonds (R), Lena Epstein (R)

Tim Murphy (R), Pennsylvania 18th district: Pam Iovino (D), Kim Ward (R)

Trent Franks (R), Arizona 8th district: Hiral Tiperneni (D), Brianna Westbrook (D), Debbie Lesko (R)

Blake Farenthold (R), Texas 27th district: Vanessa Edwards Foster (D)

Bill Shuster (R), Pennsylvania 9th district: Currently no women running

Gregg Harper (R), Mississippi 3rd district: Currently no women running

Ed Royce (R), California 39th district: Mai Khanh Tran (D)

Patrick Meehan (R), Pennsylvania 7th district: Molly Sheehan (D), Elizabeth Moro (D)

Luis Gutierrez (D), Illinois 4th district: Sol Flores (D)

John Conyers (D), Michigan 13th district: Currently no women running

Sander Levin (D), Michigan 9th district: Ellen Lipton (D), Candius Stearns (R)

Carol Shea-Porter (D), New Hampshire 1st: Mindi Messmer (D), Maura Sullivan (D)

Niki Tsongas (D), Massachusetts 3rd district: Alexandra Chandler (D), Barbara L’Italien (D), Juana Matias (D), Nadeem Mazen (D), Lori Trahan (D)

Gene Green (D), Texas 29th district: Dominique Garcia (D), Sylvia Garcia (D), Carmen Maria Montiel (R), Jaimy Blanco (R)

Ruben Kihuen (D), Nevada 4th district: Amy Vilela (D), Pat Spearman (D)

Danielle Gram is the Co-founder and Executive Director of Project 100 which engages Americans to support progressive women running for Congress. When she isn’t organizing for progressives, she’s most likely reading a book or enjoying the Great Outdoors. Find Project 100 on Twitter @proj100women and Danielle @DanielleGram.


One thought on “Mass retirements mean more women in Congress”

Leave a Reply