Opinion: 2022 elections could be a new year of the woman. Can conservative women catch up?

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Michigan's Tudor Dixon made history Tuesday, handily beating four men in the race to become the first woman to run as the Republican nominee for governor.

And Dixon, a businesswoman and conservative commentator, will face another woman this fall: incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has become a powerhouse within the Democratic Party and was a contender to become President Joe Biden's running mate.

These two women appear fairly similar on the surface. Dixon is the mother of four daughters. Whitmer has two daughters. They’ve been successful in their careers.

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Their policies, however, couldn’t be more different. And they are already trying to “out-woman” each other, making a case for how each would better prioritize women’s issues.

“The battle lines in this race couldn’t be any clearer, for this is going to be an epic battle between a conservative businesswoman and mother and a far-left birthing parent and career politician,” Dixon said during her acceptance speech.

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Record number of women are running

This will be a fascinating dynamic to watch this fall in Michigan and other states where women are battling it out with other women. Five states (Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, Michigan and Oregon) have gubernatorial races where women are the nominees for both major political parties – the most ever. In U.S. history, there have only been four other instances of women vs. women in gubernatorial contests.

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It also will be telling to see whether Republican women can start catching up to the numbers of elected Democratic women. That discrepancy exists starkly in Congress and in governors’ offices. Currently, nine women are governors and only three are Republicans.

According to Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), 2022 has set multiple records for the number of women filing to run for governor and winning nominations.

It makes sense. From abortion to education to high gas and grocery prices, many of the issues driving voter interest this election cycle directly affect women and mothers, and female candidates are in a position to speak personally on these matters. Women also constitute a higher percentage of the electorate.

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Here are other numbers from the Rutgers center:

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►Out of 36 states with gubernatorial races, eight incumbent women are running for reelection – three are Republicans.

►In six states, 12 women are running for open seats – seven are Republicans.

►In 15 states, 18 women are running as challengers to incumbent governors – six of the candidates are Republicans.

While it’s encouraging to see such an increase in participation by women, they still make up a small minority of elected leaders who serve in governors' offices.

USA TODAY columnist Ingrid Jacques © Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press via USA TODAY Network USA TODAY columnist Ingrid Jacques

The dynamics are changing, though.

Kelly Dittmar, director of research at CAWP, points to how man vs. man elections remain more common than woman vs. woman matchups, but the majority of the gubernatorial contests decided so far this year are either woman vs. woman (five) or mixed-gender races (11).

Republican women need more support

Dittmar says some of the discrepancies in political diversity among elected women stem from different support infrastructure among the parties. Democrats have traditionally had stronger organizations that recruit and fund liberal women (think groups like EMILY’s List), while Republicans tend to shy away from identity politics.

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This seems to be changing as the GOP realizes that it needs to diversify its candidate base if it hopes to compete with Democratic contenders.

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In Michigan, if the largely unknown Dixon is to have any shot against Whitmer, the Republican Party will have to shower her with as much support as possible in the next few weeks. With the governor's strict COVID-19 shutdowns that hampered Michigan’s economy and schools, Whitmer made a lot of enemies on the right, and they have said they’ll do everything they can to oust her.

Now they need to follow through.

Whitmer has a proven record as a strong fundraiser – she’s sitting on roughly $15 million in campaign cash. Dixon has a fraction of that with $1.8 million.

Regardless of the outcome, it's good for Michigan, and the other states in this position, to have two accomplished women battling for the state’s top job.

Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to [email protected]

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2022 elections could be a new year of the woman. Can conservative women catch up?

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