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Northwest Florida Follows National Trend When It Comes to Women Running For Office

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More Democratic women are running than Republican women nationally, and Northwest Florida doesn’t look much different. Though several Republican women ran in the primaries in this area, the majority of the women remaining on the ballot in the general election are Democrats.

Dr. Jennifer Zimmerman, Dr. Z, is running against incumbent Rep. Matt Gaetz. Unlike Matt Gaetz, Dr. Z joined the race to fight against the Trump administration.

“This Congress, though, has blind loyalty and that’s not safe,” Zimmerman said. “That’s not constitutional, and that’s not good for the majority of the American public.”

Zimmerman is not alone in the post-2016 enthusiasm among Democratic women. The backlash to President Trump’s election spurred hundreds of candidacies from women across the country. Diane Mack is the Founding President of the Institute of Women in Politics of Northwest Florida. She says this excitement extends beyond candidates and into politically active members of the community.

“There’s just a great surge of interest after the 2016 elections, now granted that’s mostly among democratic women.”

Despite democratic enthusiasm, Northwest Florida is still heavily conservative. That makes a victory for any of the democratic women running the panhandle a difficult challenge.

Dr. Jocelyn Evans has studied women in politics and is the associate dean of the college of arts social science and humanities at the University of West Florida. She says that for an area that is rural and conservative, there’s only one way to elect female representatives.

“For women to represent [conservative] areas, they’re going to have to run under the banner of the party that dominates election cycles,” Evans said. “If you always go Republican then the only way you’re going to have female representation is to elect a Republican woman in the primary who then runs for the general and wins.”

But it’s not that simple, especially during the Trump presidency. Evans says many professional women feel alienated by the current administration. While women in the Democratic Party are mobilized by Trump, Republican women aren’t acting with the same enthusiasm. 

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Gloria Horning

“They also are not sure that they would have their party’s support so I think there’s a dampening effect on potential female republican candidates," she added. But women aren’t just involved in partisan races. Lois Benson and Dr. Gloria Horning are both candidates for the ECUA election. It’s the only one in Escambia that features a woman running against a woman. 

Dr. Horning is campaigning for the first time, though she’s always been an environmental advocate. She says it doesn’t feel like her being a woman has mattered at all.

“I haven’t seen any backlash from it," she said. "I don’t feel like it’s a woman running against a woman, it’s the health, it’s the environment.”

Benson has ran in several races throughout her career. She’s served on city council, in the state legislature and ran in the Republican Primary for Congress in 1994. Benson’s first time campaigning for city council in 1989, she went knocking doors asking voters for their support. She knocked on the door of one home and an old man answered the door. Benson gave her pitch and was pleasantly surprised by his response. 

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Lois Benson

"He stuck his finger in my face and said, ‘I’ll vote for you because you’re a woman and women get things done,'" she reclled. 

This Tuesday is Election Day and the last time to vote. Polls close at 7 p.m. in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Vote by mail ballots must be delivered to the Supervisor of Elections Office by that time to be counted.