Election 2018: A year for women in McHenry County?

Democratic challengers in state, federal races stand up for rights

1 of 4

Could the 2018 election mark a major shift in politics that ups the microphone volume for women voters?

Three women challenging Republican men for state and federal seats representing slices of McHenry County hope so.

"Women are going to drive this election," Democrat Nancy Zettler said. She will battle appointed incumbent Don DeWitte for Illinois' 33rd Senate District seat. "We're realizing now that unless we get people who look like us and think like us in office, we're not going to have any significant changes that benefit women."

In September, the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University reported a record
476 women (356 Democrats and 120 Republicans) filed to run for the U.S. House of Representatives
across the country. The previous high was 298 in 2012.

Candidates such as McHenry Democrat Mary Mahady pointed to President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 and his subsequent performance in office as a starting point for many women in politics, and recent polls suggest the same.

"There are a lot of women who are getting involved because they don't like the direction of where things are going," said Mahady, who will face appointed Republican incumbent Craig Wilcox for Illinois' 32nd Senate District seat. "Women have been woken up. We can't sit on the sidelines."

A national Pew Research Center survey released Oct. 1 showed that 63 percent of women disapproved of Trump's job performance. The results followed two years of reports that put Trump's past and the fight for women's rights on center stage.

Since Trump's election and the release of an "Access Hollywood" tape in which he bragged about groping women, 22 women have publicly accused him of sexual harassment and assault.

Trump's personal attorney this year pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and said he made hush-money payments to two women claiming that they had affairs with the president.

On Saturday, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as the 114th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court after claims emerged that he had sexually assaulted women three decades ago – allegations he emphatically denied in televised testimony.

While Kavanaugh’s appointment marked an accomplishment for Trump and a Republican Party that now holds a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, women running for office have said it represents a threat to women’s rights.

“I think they definitely have the intention to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Zettler said of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. “He’s been known to have some very conservative views on women’s rights.”

Protecting the power of Roe v. Wade is a pillar of Democratic campaigns in Illinois.

In a questionnaire submitted to the Northwest Herald, 14th Congressional District candidate Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, said women's rights to choose what is right for their bodies is "under attack in Washington."

“I will always fight for a woman’s right to determine her own future,” Underwood said.

She will face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Plano, in November.

To Zettler, fighting for women’s rights – especially abortion rights – likely will take place at the state level.

“I think what happens at the federal level will hit us on the state level like a tsunami of pain,” Zettler said. “I think there will be plenty of opportunities to fight in the General Assembly, and I’m ready for that challenge.”

In a time when women’s right are under attack, the government needs women in leadership, Mahady said.

“Men don’t get it,” she said. “They don’t understand sexual assault. They don’t understand sexual harassment. We need to be leading the charge in correcting that, making sure we don’t accept that behavior.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.