A record-setting 12 women won their states’ gubernatorial elections this week, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Arkansas.
Twenty-five women won major party nominations for governor across 20 states during the 2022 election cycle, and five races featured female nominees from both major parties. Nine Republicans and 16 Democrats made bids, according to a Center for American Women and Politics study. Five members from both parties won, with uncalled races remaining in Arizona and Oregon as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Prior to the 2022 election cycle, 45 women had been elected governor, accounting for less than 2% of people to ever hold the position in the U.S. Upon Huckabee Sanders’ inauguration next year, Arkansas will become the 32nd state in which a woman has been governor.
“One of the most amazing things about tonight is that no matter how it turned out, Arkansas was going to make history tonight,” Huckabee Sanders said in her Nov. 8 victory speech. “I know it will be the honor of a lifetime to serve as Arkansas’ 47th governor and the first female governor the state of Arkansas has ever had.”
One of the largest barriers to women running for governor is incumbency advantage. The incumbent, the current holder of an office or position, often has more name recognition and access to campaign finances and government resources due to their previous work in the office, according to Represent Women, a research center for women in politics.
Because white men make up the majority of incumbents, women and people of color have a better chance of winning an open seat. Four governors-elect did so this cycle, including Huckabee Sanders, Democrat Maura Healey in Massachusetts and the winners in Arizona and Oregon.
Progressive Arkansas Women is a political action committee dedicated to increasing the presence of progressive women in Arkansas politics, founder Bettina Brownstein said.
“Women are becoming increasingly visible and electable, and you see women in offices you’ve never seen them in before,” Brown said. “It reflects the changing status of women. There are more women doing all kinds of things.”
Arkansas Federation of Democratic Women has partnered with other statewide groups supporting progressive women in Arkansas such as Emerge Arkansas and Progressive Arkansas Women to bring together training, financial backing, and on-the-ground support for women all over Arkansas.
Women of color, Republican women, young women and low-income women are especially underrepresented in politics. Women are 51% of the population in the U.S., but make up only 31% of statewide elected executives of any kind, according to Represent Women.
“The cultural issue of abortion has increased women’s activism from all age groups whether it’s pro-choice or pro-life,” junior Mat Salcedo said. “I support reproductive rights and child tax credit, so having more women regardless of political party is a good measure to get stuff done.”
Arkansas has one of the lowest numbers of female state legislators in the country, with women making up 23% of 135 seats, according to the CAWP.
It takes 10 requests before a woman decides to run for office, and while that number has gone down considerably, the Arkansas Federation of Democratic Women has never stopped encouraging women to run for office, president Grace Ziegler said.
AFDW members engage women in local issues, educating them on what they can do and working toward ultimately electing more Democratic women up and down the ballot, Ziegler said.
“Women are fed up with others, especially male politicians, making decisions for them,” Ziegler said. “For too long now, women haven’t had a representative seat at the table, our voices haven’t been heard, and we have not been equitably represented.”
Individual political campaign donors are less likely to be women, and it takes more money to win an election as a woman, according to Represent Women.
Traditionally, women have a much harder time than men fundraising for their campaigns, Brown said. Her organization has been recruiting progressive women to run for office and raising money for their campaigns since its start in 2016.
“Women are assuming their rightful place in every walk of life, especially those that were traditionally reserved for men and white men,” Brown said. “So you see an increased representation of women in politics and also people of color, men and women.”
There are a record 152 women serving as U.S. Representatives, accounting for over 28% of the House. The 2020 election cycle marked the fifth straight increase in women elected to the lower chamber.
Alabama Republican Katie Britt was elected to fill an open seat in the U.S. Senate, ensuring a minimum of 24 female senators. If Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto hangs on to her seat in Nevada, one-quarter of the body’s members would be women, a mark first set after the 2018 midterms.
This story will be updated periodically.