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Women dominated the 2018 primary season. Here are the numbers.

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Image: Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives Ayanna Pressley takes the stage after winning the Democratic primary in Boston
Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives Ayanna Pressley takes the stage after winning the primary in Boston, on Sept. 4, 2018.Brian Snyder / Reuters

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WASHINGTON — Well, the 2018 primary season is officially over after last night’s contests in New York (more on them below). And one of the unmistakable conclusions from the last six months of intraparty races was the number of women running for office — and winning. Here’s a breakdown, according to data from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University:

More women ran for Congress (House and Senate) this cycle than any previous cycle.

  • There were 53 female Senate candidates (previous record was 40 in 2016) and 476 female House candidates (previous record was 298 in 2012).
  • Among the 476 women who ran on the House side, the majority were Democrats (356) — about 75 percent.
  • Republican women actually fell short of their previous record — 120 GOP women ran this cycle, compared with 128 in 2010.

More women won their nominations for House and Senate this cycle than any previous cycle.

  • Of the 53 female Senate candidates, 22 are now the nominees of their party. The previous Senate record was 18 in 2012.
  • Of the 476 female House candidates, 234 women won the nomination. The previous record was 167 in 2016.
  • There are 182 Democratic women who are their party’s House nominees this cycle — up from the previous record of 120 in 2016.
  • There are 52 Republican women who are House nominees this cycle, which falls short of the previous record of 53 in 2004.

Democratic female candidates had the highest win rate of any gender/party group.

  • 52.6 percent of Democratic House female candidates won their primary. That’s higher than Democratic men (33.6 percent), Republican women (43.7 percent) and Republican men (45.3 percent)
  • Among non-incumbents only, Democratic women also had the highest win rate (43.8 percent), versus 34.3 for GOP non-incumbent women, 21.1 of non-incumbent Democratic men and 28.8 percent of Republican non-incumbent men.

More women ran for governor — and won — than any previous cycle.

  • 61 women filed for governor (the previous record was 34 in 1994)
  • 16 of them won their party’s nomination (the previous record was 10 in 1994 and 2010)
  • 12 of those 16 winners are Democrats (the previous Dem high was nine in 2002), and four of the 16 are Republicans.

But despite those records of women running and winning, females still will be underrepresented in Congress: If women end up winning the House contests in which they’re currently favored, as well as the races deemed toss-ups by the Cook Political Report, they would hold about just 24 percent of House seats in 2019 — up from the current 19.3 percent of all House members.

Four other lessons we learned this primary season

Our colleague Alex Seitz-Wald has the *other* lessons we learned this primary season:

1. Trump is the GOP’s everything

“In primaries where Trump himself intervened, his favored candidate won nearly every time. The president almost single-handedly helped Rep. Ron DeSantis win the GOP nomination for Florida's governorship. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who has been critical of the president, lost renomination after attacks from Trump. In Kansas, Trump helped push controversial Secretary of State Kris Kobach over the finish line, even though other GOP officials favored his opponent.”

2. Turnout surges, especially on the Democratic side

“In Arizona, where the party is hoping to flip a Senate seat, almost 150,000 more Democrats voted in this year's primary than in 2016, compared to a surge of 64,000 Republicans. In Florida, the perennial swing state home to key Senate and gubernatorial contest, Democratic turnout was up a whopping 67 percent over 2014.”

3. For the most part, Democratic establishment candidates won

“The strength of the establishment was especially notable in the early presidential nominating states, which suggests the Democratic electorate in those places may not be clamoring for another Bernie Sanders-style insurgency in 2020.”

4. The progressives who won were those of color

“While progressives lost in quantity, they arguably made up for it in quality, scoring a few high-profile upsets where it mattered most. And it's not a coincidence that nearly all of those victories came from candidates of color” — Andrew Gillum in Florida, Ben Jealous in Maryland, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York and Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts.

Cuomo easily wins New York primary

And in New York’s primary last night, many of those same storylines played out — the Dem establishment candidate won, turnout surged and a white progressive lost.

Incumbent New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo easily beat challenger Cynthia Nixon, 66 percent to 34 percent. And he’ll face Republican Marc Molinaro in November.

And in the Democratic primary for state attorney general — a pretty important position in the Trump Era — Letitia James won, getting 41 percent of the vote to Zephyr Teachout’s 31 percent and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s 25 percent.

Democrats flood the airwaves with TV ads on pre-existing conditions

Earlier this week, we noted all of the TV ads that Democrats are airing on health care. And here’s the latest from Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. — in which she looks to the camera recounting her experience in beating breast cancer, and blasts GOP opponent Josh Hawley for joining a lawsuit that could undo Obamacare’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

“Two years ago, I beat breast cancer. Like thousands of other women in Missouri, I don’t talk about it much. But those who face cancer and many other illnesses have a pre-existing condition when it comes to health coverage. Unfortunately, Josh Hawley filed a lawsuit, letting insurance companies deny coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. That’s just wrong, and I’m fighting to stop it. I’m Claire McCaskill, and I approve this message — because the insurance companies already have too many senators on their side.”

Here are other Dem TV ads seizing on health care and pre-existing conditions:

Checking in on the Dems’ Top 25 House targets

Finally, last week, we listed what we believe are the Democrats’ Top 25 House targets (listed in alphabetical order) — followed by a Next 25. Well, after several polls that Monmouth and New York Times Upshot/Siena have released over the past few days, here’s an update on where those races stand:

1. AZ-2

2. CA-25

3. CA-39

4. CA-45

5. CA-48 (EVEN NYT/Siena)

6. CA-49

7. CO-6 Dem +11 NYT/Siena

8. FL-26

9. FL-27

10. IA-1

11. IL-6 (GOP +1 NYT/Siena)

12. ME-2 (GOP +5 NYT/Siena)

13. MI-11

14. MN-2

15. MN-3 (D+9 NYT/Siena)

16. NJ-2

17. NJ-11

18. NY-19 (D+3 Monmouth)

19. NY-22

20. PA-5

21. PA-6

22. PA-7 (D+2 Monmouth)

23. PA-17

24. TX-7

25. VA-10

NOTE: KY-6, IL-12, VA-7, WV-3, TX-23, WI-1 – which NYT/Siena also polled — were on our NEXT 25 list.

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