West Virginia women make history on 2020 congressional ballot

All Democratic nominees on ballot are women for first time
Published: Oct. 30, 2020 at 4:41 PM EDT
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BRIDGEPORT, W.Va (WDTV) - It’s been 100 years since women won the right to vote in America.

And one century later, for the first time, every Democrat on West Virginia’s congressional ballot is a woman. They’re also all facing incumbents.

In total, only two of the eight congressional candidates in West Virginia this year from the Democratic and Republican parties are men.

Paula Jean Swearengin is challenging Shelley Moore Capito for her U.S. Senate seat. Capito was the first woman ever elected to the Senate from West Virginia.

Natalie Cline is up against David McKinley in the first district seeking his sixth term in office.

Cathy Kunkel is in a race against three-term incumbent Alex Mooney in the second district.

And Hilary Turner is on the ballot in the third district against Carol Miller in her first re-election bid.

“It’s not something that any of us anticipated when we started our campaigns last year,” Kunkel said.

“You have four women that are ready to bust the halls of Congress wide open and not only fight for every child in this state, but every child across the country and make sure that they have a good future moving forward,” Swearengin said.

Another theme of their campaigns: All pledged not to take corporate cash.

“We’re tired of seeing corporate lobbyists write our laws and have more say over our politicians than the regular every-day people of America and West Virginia,” Turner said.

At 32-years old, Turner is also the youngest woman to run for federal office in the state’s history.

“Feel free to follow your dreams, whatever they are,” Turner said her message is to young women and girls.

She said women have the unique ability to play the role of nurturers in society and politics.

“As a mom, I really lean into and discovered that part of myself that wants to care for others,” Turner said.

With the various challenges they face in their races against incumbents, running without a lot of personal wealth, and campaigning during a pandemic, they also say it’s clear women play by a different set of rules than men in politics.

“This is a job. We are just as qualified,” Swearengin said. “Even though we’re women, our lady parts don’t affect our brain. People shouldn’t even look at that. Look how many men have been leading our state for how many years and look at how bad it is. It’s time for new blood and it’s time for women to have a voice in our government.”

Turner added, “If you’re a woman, you’re kind of expected to have accomplished a lot more to be qualified to have good ideas.”

Cline said she, like other women running for office, has faced an onslaught of direct threats and hateful comments on social media.

“These are things that I don’t feel male candidates have to deal with ever,” Cline said. “If they do, certainly not very frequently.”

She also said she’s had KKK paraphernalia show up, and even had a sex ad placed in her name using her personal information.

“We have to continue to push through these barriers to make it easier for the next women who come after us so maybe we can alleviate a little bit of it so that they don’t have to experience it, and so quite honestly, so they don’t have to waste their time with it,” Cline said.

Kunkel said despite the challenges that come with running as a woman, those on the Democratic ticket in West Virginia are more focused on the issues of their campaigns.

“There is a different standard that sometimes is applied to women candidates, whether it’s a different way of judging how we speak versus men or how women dress versus men,” Kunkel said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve really tried to focus our campaigns on the issues that all West Virginians are affected by and care about.”

Whatever happens on Election Day, they all say their end goal is to continue fighting for their causes and for women to have a way to make their voices heard:

“I don’t think the results change the historic nature of the ticket at all,” Kunkel said.

“People in front of the pain need to be in front of the power,” Swearengin said.

“I really hope that we have inspired other women to run for office,” Turner said. “Everybody says ‘Oh, I would love to see women in a higher office.’ Well, you’ve got to vote for them. It’s quite simple,” Cline said.

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