by Sarah Bryner
As we reported earlier this fall, members of the 115th Congress are likely to face far more — and better funded — challengers than in previous cycles. In particular, Democrats are fielding an unusually high number of challengers. But, despite political action committees from both parties attempting to boost involvement in politics by women, this year’s batch of early challengers has no more women, proportionally, than the current Congress. This is particularly true for Democrats: Of the 481 Democratic challengers who have filed financial reports, 164 are women — just around 34 percent. Currently, 33 percent of the Democratic members of Congress are women. Fourteen percent of Republican challengers are female, an increase over the 9 percent of female Republicans in Congress.
These counts do not tell the whole story. Democratic female challengers and Democratic women running in open seats are doing at least as well as male candidates in the same kinds of races. Republican women, however, face significant and severe fundraising deficits.
While Democratic female challengers have raised about 93 percent of what Democratic male challengers have raised, Republican female challengers have only raised 22 percent of what Republican men have raised. This is almost certainly related to the races these candidates are running in — only 3 Republican women are running as challengers in competitive House races as identified by Cook Political, compared to 75 Democratic women running in competitive races. Competitive races will generally see more spending overall.
In races for open House seats, Republican women fare better. They raise, on average, about the same amount that their male counterparts have raised, while female Democrats raise about 160 percent of male Democrats.
The sources of funds vary depending on the candidate’s gender and party as well. In general, Democrats this cycle are getting more money as a percentage of their total fundraising haul from individual donors than Republicans, although the difference is not large. Republican women challengers or those running in open seats take in more money from small donors than do their male counterparts, but both male and female Republicans take in 64 percent of their total fundraising haul from individual donors. Democratic women in the same races take in 83 percent of their money from individual donors, while Democratic men take 77 percent from individual donors.
For challengers and candidates in open seats, regardless of gender, very little money comes from PACs — and most of that goes to candidates in open seats. This is not so for incumbents, who receive the plurality of their campaign contributions through PAC donations regardless of party or gender. However, while male incumbents of both parties receive over 50 percent of their campaign donations from PACs, female incumbents receive less than 50 percent from PACs — and Republican women get even less than Democrats. Although the differences are small, female incumbents generally get more of their campaign cash from individuals, while men get more from PACs.