There was never any doubt that voters on Tuesday would elect Atlanta’s second female mayor. But up and down the ballots for Tuesday’s runoffs, metro Atlanta voters sent a wave of women to public office.
All four state legislative seats up for grabs on Tuesday went to female candidates. And women won both the mayor’s office and the Atlanta City Council president’s post.
The victors saw it as a sign of increased clout ahead of next year’s statewide vote. Democrats predicted a surge of women, many frustrated by Donald Trump’s presidential victory and the accusations of sexual harassment rocking the entertainment and political worlds, will step forward to run for office in 2018.
“Last night’s historic victories grow the bench in Georgia and move the gender gap in the right direction,” Rebecca Walldorff, an Atlanta-based Democratic operative, said Wednesday. “And, from a practical standpoint, these gains in 2017 will hopefully translate into greater long-term consideration of women in public policy.”
The biggest prize up for grabs Tuesday was already destined to go to a woman after last month’s general election pitted two councilwomen against each other for Atlanta’s mayor. Keisha Lance Bottoms claimed victory early Wednesday over Mary Norwood, though her rival demanded a recount.
Two other high-profile contests featured all-women runoffs: Nikema Williams narrowly beat Linda Pritchett for an Atlanta-based state Senate seat vacated by Vincent Fort. Natalie Hall edged Kathryn Flowers in the contest for an open Fulton County Commission post.
What emerged after the polls closed, though, was an unmistakable trend. Felicia Moore bested Alex Wan in the race for Atlanta City Council president. Bee Nguyen defeated Sachin Varghese for an open Georgia House seat, becoming the first Vietnamese-American elected to the Georgia House.
Jen Jordan topped Jaha Howard to represent an Atlanta-based swing district in the state Senate. And Kim Schofield narrowly defeated De’Andre Pickett for a state House spot.
There was one notable exception: Robb Pitts defeated former state Rep. Keisha Waites in an all-Democratic runoff to lead the Fulton County Commission, helped by support from Republicans in north Fulton County.
‘Find their voice’
The Tuesday votes come a month after a national Democratic wave sent ripples through Georgia, powering Democrats to flip a pair of Georgia House seats thought to be so solidly Republican that the incumbents hadn’t faced challengers since the lines were drawn in 2012.
Liz Flowers, a Democratic strategist, said anti-Trump backlash also has involved an awakening for female voters. More women are managing campaigns and influencing campaign strategies, she said, and many are “not taking for granted that our interests are better represented by someone else.”
“Women are ready to drive the conversation and decision-making on health care, jobs, child care and education because we are the ones making these decisions in our families,” she added.
Katrina Worthy, a 44-year-old recruiter and mother of four children, said she was drawn to Bottoms’ experience as a “family woman.”
“I like what she represents,” Worthy said.
Jordan was one of the first candidates to enter the race for a Senate seat covering parts of Atlanta and Cobb County that had been held by Republican Hunter Hill since 2012. She said Trump’s 2016 victory helped women like her “find their voice” in politics.
“You felt like you couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore,” she said. “If you really wanted a voice in government and if you really wanted to be heard, you had to act.”
When women are moved to act, Schofield said, they may be surprised how many people will offer support.
“We’re seeing not a momentum or a movement but a repositioning of the voice of women,” Schofield said. “Why that’s important is because we have opportunity to look from a different perspective to reach across the aisle and be flexible to pass legislation that works for all.”
‘A huge difference’
The flurry of female engagement could have implications in the 2018 vote, when every state office is on the ballot.
Democrats Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans are competing for the party’s gubernatorial nomination, and Sarah Riggs Amico, a business executive and political newcomer, formally announced on Wednesday her bid for lieutenant governor.
“As a business leader, a mom and a proud Georgian, I’m tired of lame excuses from career politicians about why we can’t invest in health care, education and public safety while growing our economy at the same time,” Amico said. “So I’ve decided to run.”
And Republican Tricia Pridemore launched her campaign for an open state Public Service Commission post with the help of a trio of Cobb County GOP heavyweights this month.
First-time female candidates are eyeing a range of down-ticket contests, too. Phyllis Hatcher recently announced she’d compete as a Democrat for a vacant McDonough-based state Senate seat long held by the GOP. And other women are lining up to challenge longtime incumbents.
“House District 36 has experienced an uncontested race for this seat for the last decade,” said Democrat Jen Slipakoff, a political newcomer challenging state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, the longest-serving Republican in the House. “I believe that Georgians need and deserve choices if we are going to participate in a truly representative government.”
And Williams said she plans to share any tips she’s learned with other women who step up to run for office.
“I spent a lot of the day (Tuesday) reading posts on social media from friends from across the country about being inspired to run because of my campaign as someone who might not have the typical pedigree of a politician,” Williams said. “Having more women at the table is going to make a huge difference.”