The 2020 election is breaking all kinds of records in North Carolina — for absentee by-mail votes, for in-person early turnout, for money raised and spent in a U.S. Senate race.
There’s another record that’s likely to be shattered after Nov. 3: The number of women representing the state in the U.S. House at the same time.
Four women are considered likely winners in North Carolina districts, based on election rankings. Incumbent Reps. Alma Adams and Virginia Foxx are favorites to win reelection, while Democrats Deborah Ross and Kathy Manning are favored to win in new districts that were drawn by state lawmakers last year.
The state’s record for women in the U.S. House at the same time is three in 2011 and in 2012. Only six women have ever represented the state in the U.S. House. They include Foxx, a Republican from Banner Elk who has served since 2005; and Adams, a Charlotte Democrat who took office in 2014.
North Carolina has 13 seats in its House delegation.
“We should at the very least approach parity. What we’re going to have is more representative government. That’s going to be a really, really good thing,” said Ross, a lawyer and former state representative from Wake County who lost a U.S. Senate bid in 2016. “Everybody’s views and everybody’s voices will be at the table.”
Currently, there are 101 women (13 Republicans and 88 Democrats) serving in the 435-member House. This fall, 300 Republican and Democratic women are still in the running to win a seat, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. The data does not include third-party candidates on the ballot in November.
In North Carolina, seven women are either the Republican or Democratic nominee for a congressional seat, including Republican Sandy Smith in the 1st Congressional District, Democrat Patricia Timmons-Goodson in the 8th Congressional District and Democrat Cynthia Wallace in the 9th Congressional District. All three are running against male incumbents.
“More women in Congress are necessary. It sends a great sign to have more gender parity in North Carolina’s congressional delegation, especially for young women in the state, to inspire them to run,” said Whitney Ross Manzo, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh.
Women outpace men among registered voters in North Carolina. More than 3.62 million women are registered to vote compared to 3.07 million men, according to registration information from the state board of elections.
Different views, different districts
“We bring a unique perspective. We’ve raised families, navigated careers, cared for aging parents. It gives female lawmakers insight into the challenges that more than half of our population faces every day,” said Manning, a lawyer from Greensboro who lost her 2018 congressional bid to Rep. Ted Budd. “It’s important that these different perspectives, different lived experiences be represented.”
The candidates were quick to point out that not all women will approach issues, legislation or being in Congress the same way — just like the men running to represent the state. However, Ross and Manning said, in their experience, women sometimes have a different way of dealing with problems.
In the state legislature, Ross said, Republican and Democratic women formed a committee to reform the state’s domestic violence laws and ethics reform. She called it “vital” that more Republican women are in the U.S. House, too.
“Women tend to approach problems differently,” Manning said. “I’ve seen women value working together with others, build consensus and coalitions to get things done. When you have diverse viewpoints at the decision-making table, you make better decisions. We need better decision-making in our country.”
The four non-incumbent Democratic women — Ross, Manning, Timmons-Goodson and Wallace — have done events together throughout the campaign, one consequence of the coronavirus pandemic that has limited in-person events.
Timmons-Goodson is in a district that includes Fayetteville, while the district where Wallace is running includes part of Mecklenburg County. Ross and Manning are in mostly urban and suburban districts rated “likely Democratic” — Ross in Wake County, Manning in the Triad — while Timmons-Goodson is in a “lean Republican” district and Wallace is in a “likely Republican” one that both include some rural areas, according to the Cook Political Report.
Timmons-Goodson, a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice, is running against Rep. Richard Hudson in what is considered the most competitive U.S. House race in the state. Wallace is running against Rep. Dan Bishop.
In those races, and others, the turnout and support of suburban women could be pivotal, especially for Democrats. Many have turned against President Donald Trump, which is reflected in polling data that shows college-educated white women supporting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden 55-34. Trump also trails badly with Black women, a strong and loyal Democratic bloc.
“Suburban women are drifting to the Democrats,” Manzo said. “Suburban women are going to be a huge factor in this election.”
North Carolina Republican strategist Paul Shumaker said in early September that “suburban-based college-educated female voters are going to be a little bit tougher for Republicans to get than they were in 2016.”
Records for women in politics
The moment has been building.
Women, particularly Democratic women, took to the streets in the Women’s March in January 2017 after Trump was inaugurated. In the 2018 election, women set a record with 102 being elected to the U.S. House, including 89 Democrats.
Biden selected U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate, marking the first woman of color to be on a national ticket for one of the two major parties. Trump selected Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his choice to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
More women filed to run for U.S. House races as Republicans and Democrats than ever before in 2020. Now a record-setting number are nominees. A record number of women also filed to run for U.S. Senate in 2020, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
“Women have realized if we don’t put ourselves out there, we’re just going to be subject to what comes our way. There’s much more of a sense of urgency out there,” Ross said. “I’m not going to assume somebody else is going to take care of me. I know what my community needs, I know what my family needs and I’m going to step up and do it.”
North Carolina women in the U.S. House
• Eliza Jane Pratt (1946-47)
• Eva Clayton (1992-2003)
• Sue Myrick (1995-2013)
• Virginia Foxx (2005-present)
• Renee Ellmers (2011-2017)
• Alma Adams (2014-present)
North Carolina women in the U.S. Senate
• Elizabeth Dole (2003-2009)
• Kay Hagan (2009-2015)
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