Aug. 7 (UPI) -- As Michigan voters head to the polls Tuesday to select who will represent them in November's general election, they'll have more than twice as many women to choose from on the congressional level than in any other primary in the past two decades.
With a roughly 57 percent increase in women filing to run in congressional races nationwide -- from 338 in 2016 to 530 this year -- Michigan is ahead of curve in what some are calling the latest "year of the woman."
As of last week, 16 women from Michigan were vying for nine seats in the U.S. House or Senate, a 166 percent increase from the six women on the 2016 primary ballot. There are three women on the state's 16-member congressional delegation -- Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Rep. Debbie Dingell and Rep. Brenda Lawrence, all Democrats and all running for re-election.
For some of the seats, the results of Tuesday's primary likely will show whether any women will join that delegation, even before the November election. In the race to replace former U.S. Rep. John Conyers in a predominantly Democratic district, three women are among a field of six. One, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, has the backing of Mayor Mike Duggan and another, former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, leads in fundraising.
In another predominantly Democratic district being vacated by Rep. Sandy Levin, a woman leads in fundraising -- former state Rep. Ellen Lipton.
Challengers Elissa Slotkin and former state Rep. Gretchen Driskell also have out-raised men they seek to unseat in the House.
Though not as many women have filed to run on the Republican side in Michigan, Lena Epstein and Candius Stearns could end up with the GOP nomination.
But within the state, eyes are on the governor's race, in which former state Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer leads a field of four Democrats by double digits according to most polls. If she wins the primary, she'll likely face Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who also has a commanding lead within the Republican Party.
Head-to-head, the odds are in Whitmer's favor. An Emerson College poll released July 23 shows her with a 7-point advantage over Schuette, and an NBC News/Marist poll released July 26 has her winning by 9 points.
Whitmer, Jones, Tlaib, Slotkin, Driskell, Stearns, Epstein -- they each represent a rise in women running for office this year across the nation.
And many are winning.
Dave Wasserman, editor of Cook Political Report, said that, excluding incumbents, Democrats have chosen to nominate women in 47 percent of House races in primaries held as of July 27. The rising tide of women nominees doesn't include as many Republicans, with the GOP nominating women in 17 percent of races.
Why they run
For some women, that's why they run -- simply to have more female voices in the Capitol. Lipton said she believes women are more open to collaboration with fellow lawmakers.
"There have always been women candidates, of course, but there's a growing awareness that we need to elect more women," she told the Detroit Free Press. "The questions that women will ask would be different than the questions a male candidate will ask."
Retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, a Democrat who is looking to oust Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., in the deeply red 6th District of Kentucky, said it's time for "a new generation of leaders."
"We have to get back to talking to the working and middle class; we have to have more women," she told Vox.
Others are specifically not touting their gender as the reason they chose to run or as a reason to vote for them. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who on Thursday won her party's primary for the U.S. Senate, said she wants voters to support her for her policies, not her gender.
"I don't put my focus on being the first," she told RealClearPolitics. "I think it's important to put the focus on why people should elect me, and on the record of accomplishment and the background that I bring to be of service. That's the story we prefer to tell."
Though she says it's not her focus, if Blackburn wins the general election, she'll be the first female U.S. senator from Tennessee.
A number of Democratic candidates have said they were inspired by President Donald Trump's win two years ago. The first mass anti-Trump protest after his inauguration was organized by women -- the Women's March in Washington, D.C. -- and that momentum carried on through to this year's elections.
Kim Schrier, a pediatrician running for Washington's 8th congressional district, said the 2016 was a "wake-up call" for her.
"I knew right away that this was one of those times when you're called upon to stand up and protect everything you love," she told The Guardian, also citing Rep. Dave Reichert's refusal to hold town halls on last year's healthcare bills.
Washington also is holding its primary Tuesday, along with Missouri and Kansas.
Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY's List, a political action committee that works to get Democratic women who support abortion rights elected to office, said Trump's win -- and Hillary Clinton's loss -- was a "watershed moment."
"That one-two punch is what I believe has angered and motivated women across this country to get engaged politically," she said.
Schriock compared this year's election cycle to 1992, another "year of the woman," when women were inspired to run for office out of anger over the sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
But the 2016 race didn't just inspire Democrats to run -- Trump's improbable win without the initial backing of the GOP establishment meant other non-traditional candidates could see success.
"I represent that same tenacity, that same fortitude, that same strength and courage that he emanates," Epstein told The Washington Post.
What about women voters?
While the United States is seeing more women candidates this year, the number of women who said they're "more enthusiastic" about voting also is on the rise, data from a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation indicate.
Enthusiasm is up with both genders for the 2018 election over 2014. Men's enthusiasm increased from 23 percent to 34 percent, but women's doubled, from 18 percent to 26 percent.
Women between the ages of 18 and 44 saw the sharpest rise in enthusiasm, from 14 percent to 39 percent. And most of them -- 64 percent of 18- to 44-year-old women and 53 percent of all women -- consider themselves Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents, which could bode well for women running for Congress, most of whom are Democrats.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, of the 476 women who have filed to run for the House, 356 are Democrats while 120 are Republicans. In the Senate, 31 are Democrats and 23 are Republicans.
Of the women voters surveyed by the KFF, a majority or plurality say they prefer candidates who want to enact stronger protections against sexual assault (66 percent); support paid parental leave (58 percent); support the #MeToo movement (54 percent); support access to abortion services (48 percent); would not overturn the landmark abortion decision Roe vs. Wade (68 percent); and support funding for reproductive health services (67 percent).
Though 2018 is seeing more women candidates and more enthusiasm among female voters, with a record number of men also running for office this year -- more than 1,000 as of April -- women won't come close to closing the gender gap in Congress this year.
Still, should Democrats take control of the House in November, The Hill reported 35 women stand to head 35 committees or subcommittees in the chamber, a record number in what could be the next step toward closing that crucial gap.