More women have been running for local elected positions, particularly state legislature seats, in the past few years, pushing out perennial male candidates and filling seats formerly held by men.
On both Democratic and Republican sides of this year’s current legislative races in districts that cover Buckhead, Brookhaven, Dunwoody or Sandy Springs, there are 14 women candidates and eight male candidates.
Analysts think Republicans and Democrats alike are inspired by increased political attention nationwide and are more encouraged to run. The candidates agree those factors are contributing to the increase and also say women running encourages others.
Kay Kirkpatrick, a Republican state senator who has represented Sandy Springs since 2017, said women bring a different perspective to the table.
“There’s no reason women can’t be in leadership positions for the better of the state,” Kirkpatrick said. “They have different ways of thinking.”
Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University, said most of the conversations around women candidates center on Democrats because the increase is chalked up to movements against President Donald Trump driving more political participation.
“There’s a focus on Democratic women because of that hypothesis,” she said.
But Trump could be inspiring conservative women, as well as more moderate Republicans, to run, Gillespie said.
“They may be running as a more moderate voice in their party,” she said.
One historical reason the amount of women running has been low is because they are not encouraged by their parties or voters to run, she said, adding that there may be a shift.
“One of the big structural reasons women don’t run for office is they’re not encouraged to run,” she said. “Republican women have to be encouraged.”
Women are automatically assumed to be more moderate and liberal, which can be a disadvantage in most Republican primaries, but may be an advantage in the north metro Atlanta area, said Beth Reingold, a professor at Emory.
Many districts in this area are not “super-solid Republican districts,” which may give women a stronger chance at winning as voters begin voting for more moderate and Democratic candidates, Reingold said.
In Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, Republican Karen Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff in a race highly publicized as “flippable,” although a Republican has held the district since the 1970s. Democrats Kevin Abel and Lucy McBath will face off in a July 24 runoff, potentially setting up an all-women race for the seat.
Several state legislature seats have drawn women Democratic challengers. In some races, both parties’ nominees are women and will face each other in the Nov. 6 general election.
State Sen. Jen Jordan, a Democrat who represents parts of Buckhead and Cobb County in the District 6 seat, will face Republican Leah Aldridge. Jordan said the increase in women candidates could be due to issues that have become prominent recently being more important to women than men, such as education, healthcare and gun control.
“I think that’s part of what compels women to run,” she said.
She believes women were previously holding themselves back from running because of their obligations. Women often thought it wasn’t the right time for them to take on the endeavor, she said.
“I think what we’ve started to realize is, it’s never a good time, but it’s absolutely necessary,” Jordan said.
Aldridge said being a woman did not have influence on her decision to run, but she was mentored and encouraged by a longtime woman state representative, Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta).
Kirkpatrick, who represents state Senate District 32, said women may be encouraged by the increase in women running.
Democrat Ellyn Jeagar, who will challenge incumbent Republican John Albers in the District 56 race, said Democratic women are fed up with Republican policies.
“I think some people have been pushed to the edge of what people can tolerate. That means some people are stepping in,” she said.
She said Georgia is “fortunate” to have the women running to help provide a more accurate representation of voters.
“At least half of Georgia is women, but you would not know that by looking at the House of Representatives or the Senate,” she said.
Others, like Betsy Holland, have been recruited by local groups set up to encourage Democratic women to run and challenge incumbent Republicans.
Holland, who defeated two male Democratic candidates in the primary, said the national political climate has “energized” people and drawn them to run.
On the Democratic side, Reingold, the Emory professor, has seen more women that do not have a strong chance at winning running for office.
“This surge in Democratic candidates seems to be a little less cautious,” she said.
Women candidates are typically more strategic, while men are less concerned with their chances, Reingold said.
“Male candidates are more willing to run even when they’re not sure of their own qualifications,” she said.
Some male candidates in recent local elections, such as Democrats Patrick Thompson in state Senate District 56 and Bob Gibeling in state House District 54, have been perennial and unsuccessful candidates for various offices. They typically win their primaries with no challengers, but this year were both pushed out in the primary by women candidates.
Thompson, who lost to Jeagar in the Democratic primary, said he was glad to see more women running, but believes he lost because people vote for women purely because their gender.
“I did hear people who are saying they are voting for all women candidates, the same as people that vote all one party, which I think is not a good practice,” Thompson said.
Thompson said he feels he has gotten short shrift as the candidate who has been running for various seats for 10 years and always attends community events to be bested by a newcomer.
“It’s a little disheartening,” he said.
He said that groups like PaveItBlue recruiting unqualified women can have a negative affect because some people automatically vote for women.
“That’s good and bad. I’m glad women took the initiative to recruit people,” he said.