The 2018 midterm elections featured a record number of women candidates nationwide, and their victories Tuesday will bring a record number of women legislators to Congress in 2019.
In Blaine County, three women candidates for the Idaho Legislature achieved something historic on Election Day, too.
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, and Democrat Muffy Davis of Hailey defeated their Republican opponents by large margins in District 26, a swing district that is capable of electing Republican as well as Democratic candidates.
Districtwide, Stennett won her fifth term in the Senate with 59.9 percent of the vote against Ketchum Republican Julie Lynn, Davis won her first term by defeating three-term incumbent Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, with 56.3 percent of the vote, and Toone won a second term by beating Fairfield Republican Mike McFadyen with 58.2 percent of the vote.
Stennett received 7,772 votes from Blaine County, while Toone garnered 7,391 and Davis 7,724.
Those were the most votes legislative candidates have received from Blaine County in midterm races when candidates from the two major parties were competing against each other. In the 2008 presidential-year election, former House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, received 7,735 votes from Blaine County.
Blaine County will have three women legislators represent it for the second time. From 2010 to 2012, Stennett, Jaquet and former Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, represented the district in the Legislature. District 26 includes Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties.
On Thursday, Stennett said the campaigns noticed a dramatic spike in interest in the legislative races among Blaine County Democrats before the election. She attributed that partly to the election of President Donald Trump two years ago, as well as to the enthusiasm generated by Women’s March events that swept the nation on the day after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
“It was unprecedented in all the years I have been watching Idaho politics,” Stennett said. “The kind of momentum we saw really does take a community. Our politics is unlike anything we’ve seen in many of our lifetimes. There is a lot going on that has just disturbed people. People don’t want that to be how we do business. People are starting to realize that they have to be part of the change they wish to see.”
The number of women candidates for congressional seats, state legislative seats and statewide offices surged to new records in 2018, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
For state legislatures, 2,387 Democratic women and 981 Republican women sought election. Counting third-party candidates, the tally grew to 3,389, including 1,277 incumbents and 1,175 challengers.
For Congress, 476 women candidates from both parties ran for the House of Representatives, while 53 sought election to the Senate. The figures include primary and general elections.
After Tuesday’s election, more than 100 women from both parties are expected to win House seats, though some states are still counting ballots, easily eclipsing the old record high of 84 seats. In the Senate, two new women senators will bring the total up to 25 in the 100-seat chamber.
In Idaho, Republican Janice McGeachin will be the state’s first woman to serve as lieutenant governor.
Davis, a Paralympic medalist in skiing and cycling, had never sought political office before this year. She said she felt motivated to run after the 2016 election, and because of the efforts to place Medicaid expansion on ballots in Idaho. The measure, Proposition 2, passed easily on Tuesday night. She said she quit her job in March so she could campaign full-time.
“We had an amazing turnout here in Blaine County,” Davis said. “I have them to thank and I’m really honored. There’s a lot of energy in the nation. The voters came out because they wanted change. They were frustrated. I hope to be able to deliver that. To be a part of this movement that is going on in our country, it’s a huge honor.”
Davis’ 7,724 votes were almost 3,000 more than the 4,806 votes that Democrat Dick Fosbury received from Blaine County in the 2014 midterm election. That year, Miller received 2,275 votes from Blaine County. Combined with advantages in the Republican-leaning Lincoln, Camas and Gooding counties, Miller was able to secure a 126-vote win over Fosbury.
It was a similar scenario in 2016, when Miller ran against Democrat Kathleen Eder. In a presidential-election year, Eder won 6,970 votes from Blaine County. Yet she performed poorly in the Republican areas of the district. Miller won re-election by a 264-vote margin. He garnered 3,756 votes from Blaine County that year.
Stennett surpassed her 2014 total of 4,976 votes from Blaine County. Toone, who first won election in 2016, surpassed her total of 6,896 votes from Blaine County.
Turnout was also up in Gooding and Lincoln counties relative to the 2014 midterm, but it was not enough to offset the Democrats’ advantage in Blaine County.
Miller received 3,214 votes in Gooding County to Davis’ 1,183 votes. He received 2,834 votes in Gooding County in 2014 and 3,807 votes there in 2016.
He received 1,015 votes in Lincoln County on Tuesday, compared with 950 in 2014 and 1,222 in 2016. Davis received 458 votes in Lincoln County, more than the 371 votes Fosbury received in 2014.
Overall in Idaho, Democrats gained three seats in the House of Representatives and one seat in the Senate, though a race in Ada County with a six-vote margin for the Republican candidate is likely heading to a recount. Republicans swept all the statewide offices up for election this year.
At the start of the 2019 legislative session, the House will have 56 Republicans and 14 Democrats and the Senate will have 28 Republicans and seven Democrats. The Senate will have 26 men and nine women, while the House will have 47 men and 23 women, both the same as before the election.
Stennett and Davis said they will work diligently to ensure that Medicaid expansion is implemented and funded according to voters’ desires.
“The best policy-making happens when we have a more balanced system,” Stennett said. “Winning Proposition 2 is just the beginning. We’re going to have to fight for what everybody worked to see in Prop 2. We need to be listening to the people.”