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This Year Many Women Under 30 Are Running For Congress

Jun 29, 2018
Originally published on June 29, 2018 6:57 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

OK, back to the victory this week of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez which has electrified activists in her party. She is running in a year with a record number of women running for congressional seats. And she's one of many younger women attempting to get elected to Congress. If they win, that would mark a major shift in Washington. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben has more.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: In a lot of news stories about Ocasio-Cortez there's one fact that tends to get mentioned early.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Twenty-eight-year-old Alexandria Ocasio...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: She's 28 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: A 28-year-old former bartender.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Twenty-eight-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

KURTZLEBEN: There's good reason for that. Ocasio-Cortez is very young by congressional standards. If she's elected in November, she stands to be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. America's lawmakers skew older, and they skew male. Right now, only around 1 in 5 members of Congress are women. Of those women, only four are under the age of 40, and zero are under 30. Here's Deborah Walsh, director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University.

DEBORAH WALSH: The pattern has been women wait to run until their kids are a little bit older and they have a lessening of family responsibilities.

KURTZLEBEN: But this year, there are dozens of women under 40 running for Congress, including several under 30 like Ocasio-Cortez. Breaking the mold of the typical candidate can be helpful on the campaign trail. That's what Lauren Underwood, who's running as a Democrat in Illinois' 14th District, explained to NPR earlier this year.

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LAUREN UNDERWOOD: The only people that have ever come out of our district are middle-aged white men. And so I think that there's just an interest in having a different voice represent our community. Now, the fact that I'm a millennial woman of color is very different.

KURTZLEBEN: It's also easier for young candidates to appeal to voters as outsiders. All of that said, Walsh adds that being young can compound some of the difficulties that women candidates already face.

WALSH: Women have an issue of credibility and being taken seriously and being seen as qualified in general. We know that from research. When you're young and you're a woman, that's even more of a hurdle.

KURTZLEBEN: Morgan Murtaugh, a 25-year-old Republican running in California's 53rd District, says she has experienced that kind of underestimation herself.

MORGAN MURTAUGH: I've had people tell me that they like where I stand on the issues, that I'm great for the party, but they're scared that I'm too young.

KURTZLEBEN: That's one big drawback of being a young woman on the campaign trail. Murtaugh also said there's another - unwanted attention from men.

MURTAUGH: No one cares about my personal life except, you know, the older men. You know, I just smile and respectfully keep my distance.

KURTZLEBEN: Keeping your distance from the very voters you're trying to court makes campaigning all the more difficult. Plus, Deborah Walsh from Rutgers says there's a double standard when it comes to a candidate's age.

WALSH: Young is positive for men, and young can be a hurdle for women or another hurdle for women.

KURTZLEBEN: Unless Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's victory is a sign of a real shift. Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.