Collecting signatures for candidates to get on the ballot had never been this easy for Mike Tindall.
As he canvassed in Philadelphia’s western suburbs, Tindall got 115 voters to sign up in one weekend, discovering two main résumé credentials that primary voters wanted: Female candidates and those who were new to the political fight.
“They want somebody who’s fresh,” Tindall, 68, said in a late March interview after a meeting of local Democrats. “They want somebody who is fresh and unencumbered.”
On May 15, Tindall looked like a political prophet. Voters in Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District nominated Mary Gay Scanlon, a lawyer and education activist who had never run for anything other than school board. In a crowded field of 10 candidates, three of the top four finishers were women who were relatively new to politics.
It’s a scene that played out across Pennsylvania that night — Democrats nominated seven women for U.S. House races — and continues to unfold in primaries across the nation.
Again and again, if given the choice between the two sexes, Democrats are siding with female candidates for office following the election of President Trump in 2016 and the #MeToo movement, driven by sexual harassment allegations in Congress, Hollywood and other industries.
The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan site analyzing politics, offered an assessment on Friday on the “gender bonus” for women in Democratic primaries. So far, there have been 65 House contests that included at least one female Democrat, and women won 45 of them. In two others, a woman is the leading vote-getter heading into a runoff election to decide the nominee.
Moreover, women represented 39 percent of the candidates — yet they collected an average of 54 percent of the votes in those 65 House races.
In Scanlon’s primary, for instance, voters chose among six women and four men. Combined, the women got more than 70 percent of the vote, a gender bonus of almost 11 percent.
The state representative with a 25-year record of winning races while fighting for liberal causes? He got less than 10 percent of the vote, finishing a distant fifth.
Democratic strategists offer several explanations for this surge: reaction to Trump, who was caught on audiotape boasting about grabbing women’s genitals, and other sexual misconduct accusations against powerful men.
Democrats also are clamoring for change in Congress — where about 80 percent of the 535 seats are filled by men. That creates an obvious choice for who will represent the most change on Capitol Hill.
“Which of those is change from what they think of as Congress? Something different is not another guy,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist.
In a December 2017 poll for CNN, 64 percent of voters said the country would be “better governed” if more women held office — 83 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents supporting that view.
Not every woman is winning. In Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, Scott Wallace, 66, defeated Rachel Reddick, 33, by a wide margin. Wallace, a wealthy philanthropist, overwhelmed Reddick, a military veteran who was a Republican until 2016, by outspending her 7 to 1, according to some estimates.
Also, many of the female nominees probably will not reach Congress because they now have to run in general elections in very Republican-leaning districts.
But even these results are an indication of the sentiment of Democratic voters nationwide. The most prototypical races so far have been the contests this month in Nebraska and Kentucky.
In each race, a woman with little or no political experience squared off against an experienced, older man who had the backing of party leaders in Washington.
Kara Eastman, 46, a nonprofit organization executive, had won a single race, for the board of a community college in Omaha. She ran as the more liberal candidate against Brad Ashford, 68, whose first victory came in a 1986 run for the state legislature. A one-term congressman who narrowly lost in 2016, Ashford had a large fundraising edge — yet Eastman pulled off the upset.
In her first campaign video, Amy McGrath, 42, the first female Marine to fly an FA/18 in combat, showed the letter a male congressman sent her when she was 13, informing her that “women ought to be protected” and should not serve in combat.
“I knew I could do it,” McGrath says, having gone on to fly 89 combat missions. Another ad shows her taking her three children to a doctor visit, what she calls her “toughest mission” as she chases after them while they run around the office.
“I approve this message,” she says, “because I’d like to see the other guys running deal with this.”
She ended up winning comfortably over Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, 64, whose first run for office came 16 years ago.
Two more examples of this dynamic will be tested June 5 in California.
North of San Diego, Sarah Jacobs, 29, is running in her first race, the only Democratic woman in a crowded field. “There aren’t a lot of people in Congress that look like me,” Jacobs says in her introductory ad, as a montage of older white men flash across the screen. “But maybe there should be.”
One of her main opponents is Doug Applegate, 65, who is a political outsider himself but already ran for Congress, losing a close race two years ago to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who is not running for reelection this year.
North of Los Angeles, Katie Hill, 30, who ran an organization helping homeless Californians, faces Bryan Caforio, 35, a lawyer, in a district that gave Hillary Clinton a margin of seven percentage points over Trump.
Both Democrats are political newcomers and much younger than the average member of Congress. Caforio moved into the district less than three years ago, ran and lost to the incumbent, Rep. Steve Knight (R).
Hill is trying to run as the fresh face, including a unique ad showing her rock climbing.
Looking into a camera, hundreds of feet in the air, Hill sums up her campaign and many others.
“It’s time for a change,” she says.