Nevada Democrat Jacky Rosen casts herself as a woman of the people. She worked her way through college as a waitress, worked her way up the corporate ladder as a computer programmer and opened her own consulting business. Now, she is running in a competitive race for U.S. Senator in the state.
Her rival, GOP Sen. Dean Heller, tried immediately to raise doubts about her record, a tactic often used to discredit female candidates. Heller ran an ad in July accusing her of lying on her resume. "No computer degree. She made it up," the ad said. It claimed a business Rosen founded "didn't exist." A week later, Rosen disclosed an official transcript and documents to prove her degree in computer science and employment history.
"Women running for office often have their qualifications questioned, but Senator Heller's desperate, baseless and over-the-top attacks should not be accepted as politics as usual," Rosen told CNBC. In September, following Rosen's primary win, Heller's campaign was exposed for running digital ads featuring photo shopped images of her eyebrows, a blatant "sexist attack," spokesperson Sarah Abel said.
Rosen is one of multiple high-profile candidates striking back against gendered attacks in the 2018 election. While female politicians have historically avoided responding directly to sexism, for fear of backlash over appearing weak or victimized, they are reacting differently this year, experts say.
After President Donald Trump's victory in 2016, women's marches and the MeToo movement defined 2017. The mobilization and anger translated to the 2018 election, where a surge of female candidates in both parties are running in battleground territories. And sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have led some female candidates to rip at their opponent's responses favoring Kavanaugh and dismissing accusers.
"There's a real heightened sensitivity to sexism and misogyny this year, and more people are calling it out," said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "For women, it's politically less risky to call out sexism."
A record number of women are running for office this year, and many are newcomers with a wide range of backgrounds. The overwhelming majority is Democrats.
"Of course these women are calling out sexism," said Jess McIntosh, a Democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton aide. "They're part of the backlash and movement against electing sexual predators like Donald Trump."