WASHINGTON — Some of them always wanted to run, but were waiting on the right moment. Some were recruited. Others say they felt a sudden call to action.
One thing they have in common: They want more people like them — more women, that is — representing Texans in Congress.
Only three women serve in Texas’ 38-member delegation in Washington, despite women outnumbering men in the state’s population. But this year, more than 50 female candidates from Texas are hoping to change that statistic, and are competing in more than two dozen House races, as well as to replace Sen. Ted Cruz.
The eye-popping figure is more than three times the number of Texas women who ran for Congress in 2016 and nearly eight times the number who ran in primaries during the 1992 “Year of the Woman,” state records show, though Texas had six fewer districts back then.
A handful of women are seen as serious contenders for the general election this fall, if not likely victors. They would become the first new women from Texas to win a general election to Congress since Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger in 1996, apart from Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, who won a special election to briefly fill the remainder of ex-Rep. Tom DeLay’s term a decade later.
“It’s a long time coming kind of movement,” said Cecilia McKay, president of League of Women Voters of Dallas, of the boom in female candidates. “Women are getting more confident. …They are taking the plunge and saying: ‘I can make a difference.’”
They’re part of a national, largely Democratic-led surge in women running for political office this year. Including incumbent Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, of Dallas, and Sheila Jackson Lee, of Houston, about 75 percent of the Texas women in congressional races are Democrats, records show, many who say they were spurred to action by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and election.
But a spate of retirements in the Texas delegation has also prompted a number of women in both parties to enter the ring.
Lillian Salerno, a Democrat who served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture under former President Barack Obama, described her decision to challenge Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions as a “slow churn.”
Salerno, who will face six male competitors in the March 6 primary, said she was working on health care issues on behalf of small businesses last year when others encouraged her to run.
“It wasn’t that I thought a woman needed to be here,” she said, adding: “I thought: Maybe my skills could be useful in this time, in what seems like complete partisanship and divisiveness.”