Activists billed 2014 as the year women would break down statehouse doors to capture long-elusive governorships.
But primaries and a climate favoring wealthy, self-funded candidates have dampened the outlook. Now, even the most optimistic prognosticators see women capturing only one or two more seats than the five they already hold, falling short of a record nine governorships held by women twice in the last decade.
“It’s embarrassing to our country in 2014, when 51 percent of our population are women, that we’re trying to creep to six or seven women governors,” said Adrienne Kimmell, executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation. “It’s a slow and painful process.”
Look no further than last Tuesday, when a round of primaries in Florida, Arizona and Vermont swept out three more women seeking their state’s top job. The most promising candidate on last week’s slate, Republican Christine Jones in Arizona, finished third in the race to succeed outgoing Gov. Jan Brewer, ensuring that the state will end a streak of three women in the top job.
In fact, when primary season is over in this year’s 36 gubernatorial contests and voters have selected 72 major-party nominees, no more than nine will be women — and that depends on the outcome of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island primaries on Sept. 9.
Supporters also worry that the increasing prevalence of money in politics is actually exacerbating the disadvantages for women candidates. Men, they argue, are more likely to be self-funded and therefore be more attractive to major parties. And women have had to work harder — and tap new donor networks — to raise the same amount of money as men, who often have entrenched relationships that can bring in big dollars with less effort.
“There’s a reason it’s called an old boys’ club. Men tend to have access to other men,” said Kimmell, the Barbara Lee official.
The emergence of several viable Democratic women seeking governorships has heartened EMILY’s List, a PAC supporting Democratic women for office. President Stephanie Schriock said in a recent interview with a POLITICO reporter, broadcast on C-SPAN, that she’s hopeful even underdogs like Texas’s Davis have a chance for an upset.
“This race is going to get closer as we get closer to the election,” she said. “This is far from over. I really just believe we’re getting started.”
Read more: “The Year of the Woman Governor Hits a Snag”