With the recent events in Charlottesville, the spotlight is definitely on Virginia. However, there is another reason that we should all be paying close attention to the state.
Virginia is one of only two states holding statewide elections this year, and the outcome of its November election could be a harbinger of what is in store for Democrats in the 2018 mid-term elections.
The state’s governorship and part of its state legislature is up for grabs this year. Importantly, all of the seats in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates are up for re-election. Democrats need to regain 17 seats to take back the Virginia House of Delegates. Consequently, that’s the exact number of Republican-held districts that Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 election. And the great news, for those who care about getting more great Democratic women elected, is that it is going to be women who will help us flip the House of Delegates from red to blue.
An unprecedented 51 Democratic women competed in this year’s Virginia primaries, up from only 26 who filed in 2015. Of those women, 31 are advancing to the general election in November.
In fact, Emerge Virginia, which recruits, trains, and provides a powerful network to Democratic women, trained 18 of those women — two incumbents and 16 would-be newcomers. Ten of those women are running in districts that Hillary Clinton won. In a state that went for Hillary by five points, it’s crucial for Democrats to mount a challenge and take back this governing body in 2017.
What’s so incredible about many of the women running for the House of Delegates goes beyond their gender. Many of these women, if elected, will make history.
Elizabeth Guzman emigrated from Peru as a single mom looking for a better future for her oldest daughter. Guzman worked three jobs in order to afford a one-bedroom apartment for her and her daughter as she put herself through college. Today, she has two master’s degrees and works as a social worker to prevent child abuse. If elected, she will be the first Latina to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Danica Roem is the first transgender person to run for the Virginia General Assembly. If she wins her race, she’ll be the first out transgender state legislator in the nation. A lifelong resident of her district, Roem hopes to improve her community and inspire others to be a voice for equality.
Kathy Tran fled Vietnam with her parents as boat refugees when she was just seven months old. Although many other countries offered them asylum, they waited 13 months for the United States to accept their application. She said that she couldn’t stand by while Donald Trump and Virginia Republicans dismantled the ideals that brought her family here, so she felt compelled to run. If she emerges victorious in November, Tran will be the first Asian-American woman to serve in the General Assembly.
Jennifer Carroll Foy recently won her primary by 14 votes. A public defender and foster parent, Foy is already very experienced at helping out some of the most vulnerable in her community. One of the first women of color to graduate from Virginia Military Institute, she cites standing up and doing what is right as one of her chief reasons for running for office.
Hala Ayala is a single mother who worked her way up from a service job with no health insurance to become a cybersecurity specialist with the Department of Homeland Security. She felt particularly compelled to run because she was worried about Trump’s travel ban and his policies on health care.
All these women are first-time candidates. And this is just the beginning of what Democrats can hope to see if they support these candidates and continue supporting women who step forward to run.
The uptick in women running for office in Virginia is the first indicator we have of an emerging trend: Women are the front line of the resistance, and women are stepping up and running for office at unprecedented numbers.
A recent poll conducted by Lake Research Partners found that women made up 86 percent of anti-Trump phone calls to congressional offices. Women organized and spearheaded the Women’s March on Washington and affiliated marches in 650 cities and towns. Imagine what women like Ayala, who helped organize Virginia for the Women’s March on Washington, could do in elected office.
There are many Democrats out there that are hoping 2018 will be a year in which we take back power from the Republicans at all levels. But Democrats don’t have to wait until next year to begin the wave of elections that will help us regain electoral power. It’s already started this year — in Virginia.
Andrea Dew Steele is the founder and president of Emerge America, the premier training program for Democratic women.