Editor’s Note: Brooke Baldwin is a Peabody Award finalist who anchors the 2-4 p.m. ET edition of CNN Newsroom. The views expressed in this commentary are solely the author’s. You can find all episodes of Brooke Baldwin’s “American Woman in Politics” here.
Cara McClure explains her decision this way.
“I wasn’t planning on running, and then I woke up that morning feeling guilty … because I have so much to offer.”
McClure once battled homelessness as a single mother. But her determination and grit through the years earned her a job as a grassroots organizer, a home for her family and, eventually, gave her the nerve to run for office. Last fall, she was one of the thousands of black women who helped deliver victory for Doug Jones – the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the US Senate in 21 years.
And that got her thinking: Why should she merely support someone else? Why not be the change herself.
She’s far from alone. There’s an unprecedented wave of female candidates – many of them first-timers – running for office up and down the ballot this year. So far, 61 women have run for governor in 2018, nearly doubling the record of female candidates set in 1994, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.
Women have also set a new record in the race for seats in the US House of Representatives, with a total of 185 women – Democrats and Republicans combined – landing a major-party nomination to run.
And since Donald Trump was elected President, 36,000 women have expressed interest in running for office, according to Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List, a progressive pro-choice organization that recruits and funds female candidates.
Think about that: 36,000 women.
In Texas, that includes Gina Ortiz Jones, who is running for Congress. If she wins, she’ll be the first Filipina-American to do so – ever. She’s also an Iraq war veteran, first-generation American and a lesbian. Dismayed by the current political climate, Ortiz Jones felt called to step up and serve.
“We’re being tested,” Ortiz Jones said. “The real cost is in 5-10 years from now when I’m looking in the mirror: ‘Did I do everything I could do?’ If the answer isn’t yes, then I failed – this country has given so much to me.”
Equally motivated to serve her community, Paulette Jordan in Idaho has faced down a barrage of predictably dismissive comments. “I’ve heard: ‘She’ll never do it,’ ‘she doesn’t stand a chance,’ ‘never in hell,’ ‘she doesn’t have the money,’ ‘why would she run?’ and ‘she’s wasting her time,’” Jordan said. “People think it needs to be a white male.”
If anything, those comments have made Jordan even more determined to make history and become the country’s first female Native American governor.
I created the series “American Woman in Politics” to learn more about McClure, Ortiz Jones and Jordan – to lean into women who are what I like to call, “extraordinary ordinary women.”
These are women from all corners of the country whose names you might not know but whose stories so many Americans will be able to relate to. They’ve made sacrifices and dared to do more than just complain about politics around the dinner table. They jumped into the deep end, learning how to raise money, create a campaign message and reach voters for the first time in their lives.
These women told me over and over: “We have too much to lose.”
Who surprised me the most? Christina Hagan, a millennial candidate in Ohio and ardent Trump supporter who was running for Congress. There are three times as many Democrats as Republican women running for office this year.
“The Democrat Party has more embraced the idea of being forward with gender, forward with diversity, while the Republican Party is still a lot of old white men,” Hagan, who lost her primary election in May, is quick to point out.
Hagan is underrepresented in what she refers to as an “an old boy’s club.” She said that needs to change. She’s absolutely right.
I dedicated my first American Woman series to my mother. She and millions in her generation felt they couldn’t use their voices, but they taught their daughters they must use theirs.
I dedicate this second series to you, the women reading this right now. Perhaps you’ve flirted with running for student government or school board or Congress. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to be elected to US Congress, once famously said that “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Watch these episodes. Be inspired. Rise up. Act. Soon enough, you won’t need to bother with a folding chair.
Clarification: This story was updated to reflect Christina Hagan’s primary loss.