Resilient women candidates: They come back and win after an election loss

Women's March
A woman standing in Tallahassee for the 2017 Women's March holds a sign that reads "'It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent' -- Madeline Albright." (State Archives of Florida/Queral)

Two years ago,  Jennifer Webb was on the campaign trail in Pinellas County, vying for a seat in Florida’s state House. She lost.

What happened next?

“I’m going to do this again,” Webb recalled thinking at the time.  “And I know the next time, I’m going to win.”

In fact, the second try worked, and Webb was elected this month for the legislative seat in the Tampa Bay area’s House District 69.

Likewise, Anika Omphroy, in Broward County, was defeated in a state House race in 2016, and she too ran for office a second time and won the legislative seat in November, in District 95.

The two women, both Democrats, represent what researchers are now saying: Losing doesn’t mean the end of a political career for women. They can win after a loss, using some key strategies.

At the same time, female candidates still face challenges that can make them hesitant to try again after an election loss, according to a recent study by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which focuses in large part on increasing women’s participation in politics.

The study notes: “Research has shown time and again that women are held to a different and higher standard than men when running for political office: voters will vote for a woman only if they believe she is both qualified and likeable. Voters also remember women’s mistakes on the campaign trail and penalize them more, which undermines the candidates’ qualifications. The question remained: how does this double standard apply to women who lose their races?”

The 2018 study, called “Relaunch: Resilience and Rebuilding for Women Candidates After an Electoral Loss,” used a survey of voters and nine focus groups to look at issues related to women who lose elections.

Based on that information, voters still rate women candidates favorably after losing, and consider those women qualified for political office. And the study provides specific things a woman can do to prepare to run again – and hopefully win.

“Voters want to see a losing candidate who is a community-focused, issues- oriented public servant rather than someone trying to acquire money, power, or attention,” the study says.

Some of the key actions women can take: Continue serving in a current political office as well as serve in a role in a political party; Go on a listening tour to hear concerns from community members; help other women run for office, among other ideas.

Omphroy, of Broward County, said she did do some of those things after losing the state House election in 2016. She also maintained a positive attitude about her first attempt to win political office.

“I didn’t look at it as a loss. It wasn’t my time,” Omphroy said. She quickly got to work on her next election.

She said she got involved in the Democratic Party, helped on other campaigns and engaged in the community.

In the end, Omphroy won her legislative seat by a technicality, because “the incumbent did not submit proper paperwork,“ according to Marisol Samayoa, communications director for the Democratic Party’s Florida House Victory effort.

But a win is a win, the second time around for Omphroy.

Pamela Goodman is the head of Ruth’s List Florida, which recruits progressive women for political office and helps train them in campaigning and fundraising.

Goodman isn’t surprised that women candidates remain resilient and want to win after an election loss. Of course, not all women will win again, and for some women, it takes, two, three or even more times to win.

Goodman used Florida state Senator Annette Taddeo as an example. In 2017, Taddeo won a state Senate seat in a special election in District 40, which includes part of Miami-Dade County, and she won again in that district in November.

But before that, Taddeo had lost a number of races, including a Congressional race in 2016, and a state race in 2014 as a candidate for lieutenant governor – a running mate in the governor’s race that year.

Goodman said the group of women that Ruth’s List Florida supported in 2018 came in “very very close,” to winning, and they’re already working on their new campaigns.

“They aren’t backing down,” Goodman said.

Webb, who now has a House seat in the Florida Legislature, said she’s been speaking to a lot of women who weren’t successful in winning political office.

She said she’s given them advice about the election loss: “Use this as a catapult for a future win.”

 

 

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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