Vanessa Enoch reached her breaking point in March. That’s when she read a HuffPost article, titled “Room full of men decides fate of women’s health care,” which featured a photo of exclusively white male members of the House Freedom Caucus discussing the Republicans’ proposal for health care reform.
She found it unsettling, and it was part of the reason the Ohio State alumna joined the record wave of women running for public office.
“Some of the ideas that came out of that room really bothered me,” said Enoch, who is a Democratic Party candidate running to represent Ohio’s 8th congressional district just east of the state’s border with Indiana. “The idea that maternity should not be covered in health care — that is very disturbing.”
The number of women running for governor and U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 has reached an all-time high, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
For House races, 310 women have filed as major party candidates so far, surpassing the previous high of 298 set in 2012. In gubernatorial elections, 40 women have filed thus far, surpassing the 1994 record of 34.
Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, said there is a potential for the number of women running for the House to reach 430, and that they’re waiting to confirm record-setting numbers in Senate races, as well.
To Enoch, the increase in female candidates represent “an awakening for women” who noticed their concerns were not taken seriously in government.
“A lot of women didn’t realize that our issues weren’t on the table,” she said.
Enoch said more women started paying attention after the 2016 election of Donald Trump and what they saw as the mistreatment of women by their government.
“Some of the things that have happened in Congress, this most recent Congress, has demonstrated a lack of respect for women and women’s voices,” Enoch said.
Walsh agreed the 2016 election energized women to run for office.
“I think there was a general feeling and kind of an awakening about the real and serious consequences of elections,” she said. “A lot of the issues [women] cared about, given the election of Donald Trump … these were things that were going to be in jeopardy.”
Women win at the same rate as men in comparable races, Walsh said. Whether the increase in women running translates to an increase in women holding office depends largely on the number of open seats available.
Women make up nearly 51 percent of the U.S. population, but the percentage of female representation in every level of government is less than half of that, according to CAWP.
Thirteen of Ohio’s 18 representatives are men, while only 11 women have ever represented Ohio in the House. The state has never had a female U.S. senator — or a female governor.
“Women are less likely to consider that they are qualified to run for office at almost every point in their professional careers. Starting from college on, they feel like they are less qualified,” said Shadia Jallaq, program manager for Ready to Run, a resource provided by Programs for Ohio Women Empowered to Represent.
The best way to resolve the issue of female under-representation, Jallaq said, is for more people to encourage capable women to consider running for office.
“Women need to be asked multiple times to consider running,” she said. “So, the more people who ask women to run for office, the higher the likelihood is it that women will run.”
Enoch said women are not recruited to run as often as men, an issue that also contributes to the state and the country’s lack of representation.
She said politicians like previous representatives of Ohio’s 8th congressional district are not responsive to the needs of many constituents because they often are wealthy white men.
“They don’t understand the pay gap,” she said. “You have our children move away to communities that are thriving and that consider the needs of the young and consider the needs of more progressive people.”
Though the increase in female candidates is significant, Walsh cautions against setting expectations for the 2018 election so high that only disappointment can result.
“We need to make sure that the women who are more engaged now stay engaged beyond one election cycle,” she said. “This is a marathon and not a sprint. We need these women to stay in it for the long haul.”