Central VA sees surge in women candidates for political office

Central VA sees surge in women candidates for political office

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population, but they hold only 20 percent of Congressional seats, 24 percent of statewide offices, and 20 percent of mayoral seats across the country, according Center for American Women in Politics.

That could be about to change. A surge of women are running for political office, both here in Central Virginia and nationwide.

In 2015, 27 women ran for Virginia's House of Delegates. This year, 61 women ran.

In the race for the 7th District Congressional seat, five of the six candidates for the Democratic nomination are women.

"I think women need to start now and say enough's enough," said Democratic Congressional candidate Janelle Noble.

Adds Democratic candidate Kim Gower, "I think it's fantastic that all these other women felt the same way I did. That things are broken, and we need to fix them."

Organizations that prepare women to run for public office are reporting a boom. Emily's List, a training organization for pro-choice women candidates, says it went from receiving 900 inquiries from women interested in running for office last year, to 11,000 this year.

"I think it's part of a movement going on across the country," said Dr. Deirdre Condit, Chair of Political Science at VCU.

Condit says the boom in women candidates is mostly among Democrats, but it includes Republican women as well.

"The release of Donald Trump's discussion coming off the bus about sexual assault," explained Condit, "I think that was literally a triggering moment for a lot of women."

Condit says one of the top issues driving women to run for office is the proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. Some of the local women running for the 7th District Congressional seat echo that.

Said candidate Helen Alli, "Across the board, people say they want affordable healthcare. They don't want to lose the coverage that they have."

Adds candidate Eileen Bedell, "Cutting medicaid is going to hurt rural hospitals. We have rural counties in the 7th. If those rural hospitals go under, thousands of jobs are lost in those communities."

And candidate Kim Gower says her entry in the race was inspired by "watching everybody still going over this healthcare bill, not being able to come to decisions, hearing people say, 'I didn't really read it, I just voted on it.'"

While all five candidates say healthcare is a concern, some cited other issues as their top reasons for running.

Said candidate Janelle Noble, "I decided to run because I have three children, and I believe climate change is one of the most important issues that America is facing in the world today."

And candidate Abigail Spanberger told us, "My top priorities would be economic security, and how that relates to education. My goal will be to have the constituents in the 7th district have job prospects and have a job that allows them to put food on the table for them and their families."

One place where these women candidates all agree: they all say women need a bigger voice in government.

Said Bedell, "We are still working on this with our attempts to get equal pay for equal work."

Adds Alli, "We feel as women, we're not being represented right now. In fact, we feel we're losing things."

The five women running in the 7th District Congressional race face Dan Ward for the Democratic nomination next year. The winner will face Republican Dave Brat in November of 2018.

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