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Record number of women file to run for US House seats

Mikie Sherrill chose to challenge Republican Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who has since announced his retirement.
Mikie Sherrill chose to challenge Republican Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who has since announced his retirement. (Justin Zaremba/New Jersey Advance Media via Associated Press/File 2017)

CHERRY HILL, N.J. — The number of women running for the US House of Representatives set a record Thursday, the vast majority of them Democrats motivated by angst over President Trump and policies of the Republican-controlled Congress.

Their ranks will continue to grow, with candidate filing deadlines still to come in more than half the states.

In many places, women are running for congressional seats that have never had a female representative.

‘‘It’s about time,’’ said Kara Eastman of Nebraska, one of two Democrats vying to challenge a GOP incumbent in a district centered in Omaha.

A surge of women into this year’s midterm elections had been expected since the Women’s March demonstrations nationwide just after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. Numbers analyzed by the Associated Press show that momentum is continuing.

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After Virginia released its candidate list Thursday, a total of 309 women from the two major parties have filed candidacy papers to run for the House. That tops the previous record of 298 in 2012. The AP analyzed data going back to 1992.

While just over half the nation’s population is female, four out of every five members of the US House are men. The women’s candidacies won’t necessarily change that. They have to survive party primaries and win general elections, often against incumbents with name recognition and lots of campaign cash.

Even with the record numbers, women are still outnumbered by male candidates. But experts say the sheer number of women running combined with so many House seats open due to retirements or resignations provides one of the best opportunities for women to make real gains in terms of representation and a change in priorities.

Many of the female candidates have focused their campaign messages on health care, education, early childhood development, family leave, and workplace equality.

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Eastman said she was motivated by Republican attempts to cut health coverage for low-income people and rollbacks of environmental protections.

She decided to run after her mother, who has since died, was diagnosed with cancer for the fifth time and saw her prescription drug prices soar even though she was covered by Medicare.

‘‘It’s a great thing for me to show my 16-year-old daughter,’’ Eastman, who runs a children’s health care nonprofit, said of her candidacy.

Mikie Sherrill spent years in the Navy flying helicopters before leaving the military for a career as a federal prosecutor. For her first foray into politics, she chose to challenge Republican Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey.

Frelinghuysen has since announced his retirement, creating a bigger opening for Sherrill.

A previous surge of women running for Congress came in 1992, in the wake of Anita Hill’s testimony alleging sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas, who was then a nominee to the Supreme Court. The Senate committee weighing his nomination was all-male.

That year was labeled the ‘‘Year of the Woman’’ because women were elected to the US House and Senate in record numbers.