WASHINGTON (AP) — Gender politics have been a defining issue of this election cycle, beginning back with the mobilization by women against the victory and inauguration of President Donald Trump.
But it's not clear whether the #MeToo movement — and the controversy that sometimes surrounds it — will translate into political success for either party on Tuesday.
More women than ever before won major party primaries for Congress and governor this year, giving women the chance to significantly increase their numbers in office. They're donating more money to political campaigns, too, and they've become a well-established force in the 2018 elections.
"I feel very good about where women are going to be," said Christina Reynolds, the vice president of communications for EMILY's List, a group dedicated to supporting Democratic women in politics. "I think regardless of what happens, women have shown that they are no longer happy with other people representing them and speaking for them."
Women come forward with 'Me Too'
Women come forward with 'Me Too'
Samantha Hanahentzen, 17, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson??Hanahentzen said: "When I saw the #MeToo hashtag I was just coming to terms with my sexual assault. It happened when I was in middle school by one of my teachers. It took me a while to come forward with what had happened to me and then when I went to the administration I was told I didn't have enough evidence to prove anything and I should just keep quiet about it because I and the school could be sued for slander if I went public with my experience. It was really silencing because when I was being assaulted it was that stereotypical line of "let's keep this between me and you." And then when I found the courage to come out with out I was told again "let's keep this quiet." So for me too, it was a way to have a voice and it was a way for me to see that I'm not the only one that has gone through this and that women all around the world have all experienced the same thing. It was really unifying." TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY?
Jill Marklin, 40, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Marklin said: "I am a part of the #MeToo movement like every other woman that I know, whether they recognize it or not. I starting recognizing years ago that this is something I experience on an everyday basis, sometimes in very unconscious ways and there have been times in my life when it has been very conscious. I'm now able to talk about experiences that I didn't realize were happening at the time and I want to be vocal about it because I feel that when you bring those dark things out into the light they don't have any power anymore and that it will allow other people to bring that out too and to begin healing and to begin fighting back against those experiences. I was really lucky, if you want to call it lucky, that I never experienced rape, never experienced anything that violent. But it's everyday fear, walking in the streets, being called at, not wanting to be called at. I've had different guys, just being out, trying to force me to dance with them, to touch them. I've had men call me a bitch or I had one man stomp on my foot in LA when I said I didn't want to be around him, those are violent. Things that men never really have to think about but we, as women, are taught. When I was very young, my mom started telling me: "Be alert wherever you are. Make sure you carry your keys between your fingers?" As women, it's second nature now but it shouldn't have to be.\
Laura Chapman, 40, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Chapman said: "I have been assaulted by men from a very young age and my #MeToo story is almost my entire life up until about 30 and then I started aging out of it. I feel like if we all talk about it, that's how we can end it. The voice gives us power.\
Jenna Kreider, 24, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Kreider said: "I was sexually assaulted twice in college; once by a boyfriend, once by a friend and it wasn't something that I really talked about. I will talk about it if it's something people ask about but I'm generally not open with it. This #MeToo campaign really helped me to vocalize that with other people who I know have also gone through the same experience which is really great.\
Nancy Stalnaker, 35, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Stalnaker said: "I think it is fantastic that women are deciding that the people who deserve the shame are not the victims of sexual assault but the perpetrators of sexual assault. The #MeToo campaign has really helped people to feel that they are not alone.\
Brenda Siegel, 40, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Siegel said: "I've had several #MeToo experiences in my life but one was particularly difficult and aggressive in my relationship with my son's father. I never really spoke out about it until two weeks ago and I'm really grateful to have the opportunity to not be holding that inside my body anymore.\
Kadi McDonald, 30, wears a Rose McGowan "Rose's Army" scarf as she poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson McDonald said: "I have been blessed with the courage to talk about my experiences and be able to talk about them and this campaign was really awesome to help others do that. The recognition from family and friends that it's happening to people that they love; it's happening to everyone. I'm the most basic person you'll ever meet and so to have something so atrocious occur is very surprising for people.\
Siyobin Blanco, 23, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Blanco said: "I was sexually abused as a child and all the way growing up and it took me a really long time to recognize that so when I saw this campaign I thought that it was really important that other people know that that's something that exists, with children as well, so people can learn to recognize the signs and recognize it at a young age.\
Heather Latzko, 22, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Latzko said: "I want to remind everyone that rape is not the only form of sexual assault and just because you're dating them or you're married to them does not mean that it is not sexual assault.\
Pam Akerstrom, 63, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Akerstrom said: "I spent 20 years not telling anyone about it and I'm glad that there's an opportunity for people to speak today.\
Ashleigh Strange, 29, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Strange said: "When I first saw the hashtags I didn't think that it applied to me because I realize now that it's easy to ignore when it's happening to others and it's almost easier to ignore when it's happening to you because it's just something that you don't think that you're big enough, you don't think you're strong enough. It's weird to say that having a hashtag behind you gives you strength but it does; it's weird but it does.\
Jennifer Childs, 39, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Childs said: "When I was 30, I was sexually harassed by a boss. He was feeling me up in the car without my consent and it was one of those moments where I chose to speak up and it was really hard. I remember going to my female boss at the company and telling her about it and the only thing that they managed to do is that they took me off his team and then she proceeded to tell me that I was stupid for putting myself in that situation. Three years later he harassed somebody else and because there was a file they fired him.\
April Slusser, 24, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Slusser said: "My #MeToo experience prompted me to get involved in local organizations to help disenfranchised women who have been sexually assaulted or victims of human trafficking or domestic violence.\
Maya Helferty, 25, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson Helferty said: "I've always been aware that most women, if not all, and tons of other people experience sexual harassment and assault. I've always been really open that I've had those experiences throughout my life. But I didn't realize how many other people didn't realize and were not aware that there was such a large community of us.\
Theresa Joy, 39, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Picture taken October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson? ?Joy said: "Women have been taught that sexual harassment or anything sexual or abusive towards them is just a part of being a woman, it's just something that we live with, that we accept that we have to push through or push down and go on with as a part of life. The #MeToo movement is just another part of the women's movement that we're finally coming together and saying let's lift each other up instead of pushing each other down? I think it's changing the entire future for women that the younger generation are seeing this and saying "Wait. That guy shouldn't be talking to me like that. I'm not going to let that happen to me in the club. He shouldn't be touching me in this way?". My daughter is 19 and I'm proud of what's happening with the #MeToo movement because I feel that it's going to make her safer and stronger. Just to have that on a huge scale right now, that it's not okay to be harassed and raped and abused."?
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But Republicans, too, feel the focus on gender politics could benefit them. The fight over Justice Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court galvanized their voters, they say, and could be a factor in races including the close re-election campaign for Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
Meanwhile, #MeToo's impact has had ripples in other races, too. In Minnesota, Rep. Keith Ellison is fending off allegations of abuse from an ex-girlfriend that have turned the race for state attorney general on its head. Ellison has denied those allegations. In the same state, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat, and Karen Housley, a Republican, are fighting over the seat that Smith was appointed to after Al Franken resigned following allegations by women that he touched them inappropriately.
Like most midterm elections, the 2018 campaign is also a referendum on the incumbent president. And among women, who vote historically at higher rates than men, Trump's standing is still bleak. In the latest NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll, 49 percent of women said that they disapproved of Trump's performance, compared with 44 percent of men. And 51 percent of women overall said that Trump would be a major factor in their vote.
"Women have been energized for a long time, and it's connected to Donald Trump," said Karine Jean-Pierre, a senior adviser for MoveOn.org and a veteran of four Democratic presidential campaigns. "We are in this really awful time where people are just tired and ready and there's been such an energy around electoral politics, for at least a year since the Women's March."
Republican women say they, too, can lay claim to a share of the energy, particularly in the weeks since the bruising fight over Kavanaugh's nomination. Alice Stewart, a veteran of Republican presidential campaigns, said it's critical that the #MeToo movement "stay strong and continue."
"It has done a lot of good to hold men in power and men who have committed these acts accountable," she said in an interview. "In terms of significance, it is greater than the midterm elections."
But, Stewart added, in the case of Kavanaugh's confirmation, the movement was "temporarily hijacked for certain groups for their own gain," a tactic that she believes ended up hurting Democrats.
"In that instance, it backfired. It galvanized Republicans. It made them unite behind Brett Kavanaugh," she said. "I say it backfired in that it reignited the intensity of Republicans due to the levels that the Democrats would go to, to turn the confirmation process into such a character assassination."
But women who opposed Kavanaugh said the energy from recent protests in Washington and elsewhere over his nomination would fuel Democratic women in 2018 and beyond.
Kelley Robinson, the national organizing director for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, remembered standing on the Supreme Court steps, addressing a rally after Kavanaugh was confirmed. "I've never felt that kind of wave of sadness, of grief and of anger that I felt in front of that large group," she said.
Robinson said she believes that voters — and particularly women — will remember that fight. Every senator that voted for Kavanaugh, Robinson said, "they sided with folks that disbelieved, that mocked survivors and sided against women."
Sarah Sherman, who founded Vote MeToo PAC to support female candidates this year, said that after the Kavanaugh vote she personally felt "really steamrolled, but we peeled ourselves off the pavement" to continue to fight on behalf of women.
The fight was "definitely something that has galvanized Republicans," she said. But she also said there may be women — some survivors of assault themselves — who will be propelled to the polls by the Women's March, the Kavanaugh battle and in rebuke to the Trump presidency who go unseen.
"When you're walking in there, you don't have to explain yourself to anyone. You don't have to explain yourself to your boss," she said. "You still have your vote."
Some women said that while #MeToo is not explicitly aimed toward electing more women or driving female voters to the polls, the movement and the new wave of women in politics share the same fuel.
"It's about ways of approaching the same basic problem: A group of people who have not seen themselves reflected in the power system is stepping up and saying, 'This isn't working for me. I want to push back against the status quo because otherwise, I won't be protected or fought for,'" said Amanda Litman, a co-founder of Run For Something, which helps left-leaning millennials run for office.
At its core, the #MeToo movement is a cultural movement, and cultural movements often far outpace national politics, said Shaunna Thomas, a co-founder of Ultraviolet, which advocates for women's rights. She noted that November's elections are the first "since women around the country started demanding that sexual abusers be held accountable."
"An electoral outcome at this stage is a lot to expect of a movement that is about challenging patriarchy -- it's a huge goal," offered Thomas. "It's not just, we want fewer women to be sexually assaulted or raped or harassed. What we're demanding is a world where women have control over their own bodies, their own minds. That's a project that goes far beyond needing to build and exercise electoral power."