Women are shattering records in the 2018 primaries with more than a dozen states still to go

Carlos Osorio | AP
Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer addresses her supporters after winning the primary, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in Detroit. 

Another round of 2018 primaries brought another strong showing for women candidates.

Primaries in four states on Tuesday brought the number of women nominated for U.S. House seats and governor's offices to a record for a primary cycle, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

With some of the races still undecided Wednesday morning, 185 women in both parties had earned spots in House general elections, topping the previous high of 167 set in 2016.

At the state level, women have won 11 primaries for governor, beating the record of 10 set in 1994.

"This didn't happen in one year alone, but it is true that this year is notable in the high levels of energy and engagement we are seeing among women and particularly progressive women," said Kelly Dittmar, a Rutgers political science professor who manages the center's national research projects.

Democrats Gretchen Whitmer and Laura Kelly prevailed in Michigan and Kansas gubernatorial races, respectively, on Tuesday.

The number of female nominees will likely grow: Sixteen women are running for governor and 94 are seeking House seats in states that have not yet held primaries, according to the center.

More women are running for office than ever at both the state and federal level.

The record-shattering numbers have led to more focus on the underrepresentation of women in public office: Only about 20 percent of members of Congress, for example, are women.

That share diverges strongly along party lines. For instance, 61 women represent the Democratic party in the House versus 23 Republican women, according to the center.

Democrats had surpassed their record for women nominations for the House before Tuesday night. Democrats had previously nominated 120 women in a single year to the House. Now the total number of women Democratic nominees is greater than 143.

In contrast, Republicans still have yet to break their record for women nominees. The Republican record, set in 2004, is 53 women nominees in a single cycle. The party has nominated 42 women in 2018 so far, according to the center.

In all, 178 Democratic women and 99 Republican women have been elected to the House since Rep. Jeannette Rankin, R-Mont., was first sent to Congress in 1917.

The percentage of women Democrats in the House has been steadily increasing since the 1960s, from a low of 4 percent at the start of that decade to about 32 percent in 2018, according to a recent study by the lobbying group Mehlman Castagnetti. The rise of Republican women in the House has been far slower.

While the nomination records for women have fallen, it is unclear whether the number of women serving in Congress will increase meaningfully after November's midterm elections.

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