New maps pose a challenge for women seeking re-election

The Democrats took control of the US House of Representatives in 2018 thanks to a record performance by Democratic candidates. Two years later, a record number of GOP women won seats, bringing the number of women in the chamber to an all-time high.

But for some incumbents running for re-election this year, holding their seats brings a new challenge: redrawn congressional districts that will be harder to win.

It’s too early to know how many women MPs have been harmed by the decennial process known as redistribution – in which borders are redrawn based on census data to ensure similarly sized districts – because several states have not yet finalized their maps. But in states with new district lines, the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University has so far found more than a dozen women running in significantly tougher territory. That’s more than double the number who are in districts that are much easier to attract after redistricting, this month’s analysis found.

The new cards mean some women lawmakers are seeking re-election against longer-serving incumbents — or against each other, as in Tuesday’s Georgia primary, which pits two Democratic incumbents against each other. Ultimately, the new maps will be a factor in whether the number of women in the next Congress is maintained or increased to more accurately reflect the country’s makeup, a goal on which members of both parties have been focused. Currently, women MPs make up about 28% of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, with Democratic women holding about three times as many seats as GOP women.

Many of these women are already vulnerable because they were recently elected and don’t have the benefits of long-term tenure, like fundraising and notoriety, said Kelly Dittmar, the center’s research director. They also often won in swing neighborhoods, areas where there is more movement from one party to another.

“2022 is an important year to understand how these recently elected women will fare,” said Dittmar.

In Illinois, which lost a seat in the realignment due to its shrinking population, the state’s two first-term female representatives — one Democrat, one Republican — were among the biggest losers in the 18-member delegation in the state’s realignment.

Democratic mapmakers drew new boundaries that placed Democratic Rep. Marie Newman and Republican Rep. Mary Miller in districts already represented by male incumbents. Both women instead opted to compete against other men in neighboring counties. (House members do not have to live in the district they represent, although most do.)

Newman is a progressive who in 2020 ousted Rep. Dan Lipinski, one of the last anti-abortion Democrats in Congress. Last fall, Illinois lawmakers largely dissolved the Chicago-area district it represents when they created a new predominantly Hispanic district to reflect population growth. Much of Newman’s district was drafted into a neighboring district represented by two-year Democratic Representative Sean Casten.

Newman’s home and the immediate area where she performed her best in 2020 has been drawn to the heavily Hispanic district represented by Democratic Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. That, Newman said, “I took personally.”

She thinks it was a payback. “A lot of companies, a lot of establishment people still seem mad at me,” she told the audience at a fundraiser this month.

In an interview, Newman said she believes the Democratic lawmakers responsible for the new card deemed her expendable because she was the most recently elected incumbent. She said it was “vitally important” to have more women in Congress, especially at a time when abortion rights are under threat. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule Roe v. Wade will overturn the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

“You can’t have an unqualified person there. But when there’s a qualified woman, you really have to look at that and say, ‘We need more women’s voice in Congress, period,'” said Newman, who recently ran a campaign ad in which she talks about having an abortion at the age of 19 . “I’m very confident that if there were another 50 to 100 women in Congress and the Senate, if we weren’t in this situation… (Roe) would have been codified and immutable.”

Of course, not all women support the codification or implementation of abortion rights in federal law. Among the toughest opponents in the House of Representatives is Miller, who said she was inspired by then-President Donald Trump to run for her 2020 seat in southern Illinois.

Miller was dragged into the same congressional district as his Conservative Rep. Mike Bost, who Trump campaigned for in 2018. Rather than running against him, Miller chose to run in a nearby county against five-year Republican Congressman Rodney Davis, who supported a bipartisan commission investigating the January 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol. Trump endorsed Miller.

Another Republican, first-term representative Yvette Herrell of New Mexico, also fell victim to a partisan reshuffle when Democrats, who control the legislature, redraw their district in the southern part of the state to make it significantly more Democratic.

It is not yet clear whether women will be more affected by the redistribution than male incumbents, many of whom are also facing more difficult elections, Dittmar said.

In some cases, women are challenged by other incumbents whose districts have been drawn to their detriment. Such is the case in Michigan, where Democratic Rep. Andy Levin chose to run against Rep. Haley Stevens in her safe Democratic district rather than the area he currently represents, which an independent commission found more controversial.

And in Georgia, at least one incumbent will lose her bid for another term after Tuesday’s primary. Rep. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux have both flipped longtime GOP-held districts in the Atlanta area in recent election cycles. But after Republicans, who control the state legislature, redraw McBath’s district in favor of Republicans, the two-term incumbent opted to take over the first term from Bourdeaux in a more pro-Democrat district.

Some women benefit from restructuring. In Oklahoma, GOP Rep. Stephanie Bice’s Oklahoma City-area district — previously held by Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn — was redrawn to be significantly more Republican.

It’s often familiar territory for the candidates facing a tougher re-election.

“I just have to prove myself again,” said Newman.


For full coverage of the Midterms, follow AP at and on Twitter at New maps pose a challenge for women seeking re-election

Bobby Allyn

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