PROVIDENCE — Advocates say it’s time — way past time — for Rhode Island to send a woman to Congress again.
Only one woman has ever represented Rhode Island in Congress — Representative Claudine Schneider, a Republican who left office in 1991. But now that Democratic Representative James R. Langevin has announced he will step down after 22 years in office, attention is turning to whether the state will elect a woman to replace him in the 2nd Congressional District.
Joy Fox, who served as communications director for Langevin and former Governor Gina M. Raimondo, on Monday announced she is entering the race, tweeting, “I’m in.”
Meanwhile, state Senator Jessica de la Cruz, a North Smithfield Republican, has created a congressional campaign committee. On Monday she told the Globe: “I’m building my team. I will have an official announcement soon.”
Liz Gledhill, former chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus, said, “I just think it’s time for a woman to be in that position. It’s been too long — way too long.”
The first three Democratic candidates to enter the 2nd Congressional District race were men: Omar Bah, founder and executive director of the Refugee Dream Center, former state Representative Edwin R. Pacheco, and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who had been running for governor.
So the race already includes “a lot of great male allies,” Gledhill said. “But the voice of lived experience should be there, and you can’t replicate that with an ally.”
She noted that the United States now has its first female vice president in Kamala Harris, and that more women were elected to the Rhode Island General Assembly in 2020.
“If ever there was a time, the time is now,” Gledhill said. “The momentum and infrastructure are already there. We just need to capitalize on it.”
But in a series of tweets, she said it’s often more difficult for women to jump into a race.
Unsolicited CD2 thoughts: A woman cannot be impulsive in deciding to run. Women are often primary caregivers and can't just step away to run a federal race. Covid has made women leave the workforce in droves, many women can't afford to pay someone for childcare 1/— Liz Gledhill (@LizGled) January 23, 2022
“Women are often primary caregivers and can’t just step away to run a federal race,” she wrote. “Covid has made women leave the workforce in droves, many women can’t afford to pay someone for childcare while they work on their campaign, unpaid.”
Women also can face vitriol “for daring to step into spaces dominated by men,” Gledhill tweeted. “Men have always been expected to run for these seats, entitled to them even. Now consider all these factors and multiply them by 10 if you’re a woman of color.”
Several other Democratic women are considering a run, including former state Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, Representative Carol Hagan McEntee of South Kingstown, and Representative Teresa A. Tanzi of Narragansett.
And Representative Patricia L. Morgan, a West Warwick Republican who made national headlines for tweeting that she lost “a Black friend” to critical race theory, on Monday confirmed she is thinking of jumping into the race. “I’m looking at it,” she said. “I haven’t made a decision.”
Former state Representative Robert B. Lancia, a Cranston Republican who lost to Langevin in 2020, has already launched another run for the congressional seat. And former Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung, a Republican, is expected to run for the seat.
Professor Jennifer L. Lawless, chair of the University of Virginia Department of Politics, ran against Langevin in the 2006 Democratic primary when she was a Brown University professor.
At that time, Rhode Island ranked 38th in the percentage of women in the General Assembly, she said. But now Rhode Island ranks third, with women filling 44.2 percent of the legislative seats, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
But Rhode Island is one of 12 states that don’t have a woman representing them in Congress right now. Only Vermont has never sent a woman to Congress — a fact that has received attention ever since US Senator Patrick Leahy announced he won’t seek re-election.
Lawless — who has written six books, including “It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office” — said that when women run for office, they are just as likely to win as men if all other factors are equal. And in recent campaign cycles, there is no evidence that women face bias from voters or the media on the campaign trail, she said.
But in Rhode Island, some of the most high-profile, well-funded female candidates have already ruled out a run for the 2nd Congressional District, Lawless said, noting that Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea decided to stay in the governor’s race.
And she said other female candidates would have a difficult time competing with the network and fund-raising capacity of candidates such as Magaziner, who had been leading the gubernatorial field with $1.58 million in his campaign account. “Between personal wealth and national connections, he is on a different fund-raising playing field than any of these other candidates,” she said.
To run for Congress, Magaziner will need to refund his donors and ask them to donate to his congressional campaign.
And national groups, such as EMILY’S List, which raises millions to elect Democratic pro-choice women candidates, could help level the playing field, Lawless said. But EMILY’s List usually likes to support candidates with proven fund-raising ability, she said, and the Democratic men in the primary will likely all support abortion rights. Also, time is short, with the primary coming up in September, she said.
Republicans see the open 2nd Congressional District seat as a rare opportunity to pick up a House seat in New England, and Lawless agreed that the 2nd Congressional District is “more light blue” than Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District, which is represented by Democrat David N. Cicilline.
“But it’s still a Democratic district,” Lawless said. “The idea of sending a woman to Congress from that district is still likely contingent on the Democratic candidate being a woman.”
McEntee, a Democratic lawyer and former South Kingstown town council member who has been in the House since 2015, said she is taking “a serious look” at running for the 2nd Congressional District seat.
Magaziner has name recognition and money, McEntee acknowledged. “But is that all it takes? Is that enough for the voters?” she said. “He doesn’t live in the district, and it’s time for a woman.”