New era

Decision 2018: Guns and toughness vs. identity and diversity

Women, mostly Democrats, are running for congress in unprecedented numbers. (YouTube)

As a record-setting number of women come into the home stretch of their bids for a seat in Congress this year, many have thrown out the traditional playbook for women politicians — a mark of a cultural shift that has signaled acceptance and even desire for candidates that break the traditional mold. In a video for The New York Times, reporter Kate Zernike noted that Democratic women had long focused on “[touting] their professional record” in campaign ads in order to emphasize their competency. But this year, she explained, “They’re talking about motherhood, gender, race, and sexual orientation.”

There is one exception to his trend, however. Of the women seeking office as Republicans — a number that makes up less than a fourth of the women still in the running — the playbook has remained largely per usual, Zernike said.

“Republican women … have long shied away from what they would call ‘identity politics,’” the reporter explained. “Research shows that voters assume Republican women are more liberal than their male counterparts, so many try to counteract that showing just how tough they are. This year, a common way to do that is with guns.”

Candidates such as Kate Ivey in Alabama, Kathaleen Wall in Texas, Catherine Templeton in South Carolina, Tiffany Shedd in Arizona, Leah Vukmir in Wisconsin, Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee, and Kristi Noem in South Dakota are just a few among the many women politicians who have displayed themselves using or holding guns in their adverts.

Democratic women, on the other hand, have been unafraid to highlight their identities even, or especially, when said identities didn’t conform to the typical profile of a politician. Sharice Davids, a 37-year-old Native-American woman who is fighting to become Kansas’ first openly gay representative, has openly emphasized her indigenous heritage, her upbringing as the daughter of a single mom, and her career in Mixed Martial Arts — not to mention her sexuality. Despite running in a largely Republican-controlled state, Davids’ atypical background — at least for a politician — has proven to be a strength, not a weakness, as she heads into the November election with a strong chance of upending incumbent Republican Rep.
Representative Kevin Yoder.

Countless other Democratic women have also highlighted unconventional aspects of their candidacy. For Zephyr Teachout, a failed candidate for attorney general in New York, that meant an ad campaign that didn’t shy away from but featured her noticeably pregnant belly. In the race for Minnesota’s 5th District, Democratic candidate Ilhan Omar, a 36-year-old refugee from Somalia who immigrated to the U.S. at age 12, had her daughter, Isra, read a first-person narrative in one of her campaign ads. In Minnesota, a state that ranks among the worst in the U.S. on indices of racial equality such as income, graduation rates, and infant mortality, Omar pledged to fight for those who historically had been marginalized.

“For women like her [Ilhan Omar],” read Isra. “For women like me.”

Watch Zernike’s report for The New York Times below.

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