Will Nevada elect the US's first female-majority legislature?

After winning record number of primary races, Nevada female candidates set their sights on making history on November 6.

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    A woman holds a sign encouraging voters during the Women's March rally in Las Vegas, Nevada [File: Steve Marcus/Reuters]
    A woman holds a sign encouraging voters during the Women's March rally in Las Vegas, Nevada [File: Steve Marcus/Reuters]

    Patricia Ackerman never thought she'd run for office in the US.

    A successful business owner by the age of 21, an award-winning actress at the age of 30 and then an FBI agent sent on undercover missions to Russia, Ackerman said she never knew where she was going. "I always had my bags packed," she told Al Jazeera. 

    But when Donald Trump was elected US president in 2016, the first-generation American, born to Ukrainian immigrants who both survived imprisonment by the Nazis, knew she had to run.

    "It was [because] of the 2016 presidential elections," she said. "I had no inclination to get into politics prior to it."

    Less than a week before the midterm elections, Ackerman, a Democrat running for Nevada's State Assembly in the state's 39th district, now spends her days knocking on people's doors.

    If she, along with several other female hopefuls win, the state may make history, becoming the first in the country to have a female-majority legislature. 

    Patricia Ackerman, candidate for Nevada's State Assembly District 39 seat [Courtesy of Patricia Ackerman]

    "For 70 years, this seat [in the 39th district] has not had a Democrat, let alone a woman," Ackerman told Al Jazeera.

    Vying to represent a conservative district, Ackerman faces an uphill battle against incumbent Jim Wheeler, who caused national outrage in 2013 when he said he would vote for slavery if that was what his constituents wanted.

    But women in several other districts have a good shot at either obtaining or keeping their seat on November 6.

    'It can be done'

    According to a study by the Reno Gazette, women are favoured to control 27 seats - 19 in the Assembly and eight in the Senate - in the state's 63-seat legislature. They would still need to pick up five additional seats to obtain the majority but, the newspaper noted, there are several tight key races in both the state senate and assembly that could give women the upper hand.

    "We are excited and hopeful to see a women majority in the Nevada State Legislature in 2019," said Danna Lovell, executive director of Emerge Nevada, an organisation that recruits and trains women who want to run for office. "It can be done, but will take an extraordinary GOTV [Get Out To Vote] effort - which is currently under way! Early voting numbers are up, and enthusiasm is high on both sides. In the end, it will be a close call."

    Lovell said she saw a number of women, including Ackerman, empowered by the Women's March the day after Trump was elected. This led to a movement where women "pledged to get involved and planned to significantly change the face of politics", she said.

    Lovell noted that Emerge Nevada has seen a fivefold increase in the number of women applying to train with them in 2018 when compared with any previous year.

    A woman holds up a sign during the Women's March rally in Las Vegas, Nevada [File: Steve Marcus/Reuters]

     'These women are powerhouses'

    About 40 percent of the state's current legislature is female, and Lovell said women have already made a difference.

    According to Lovell, once elected, female legislators introduce and support legislation that focuses on families and women's rights.

    In addition to voting for their representatives, Nevada residents will also decide on a number of ballot questions, including whether to approve a tax exemption on certain feminine hygiene products.

    Jordan Tama, a professor at the American University and scholar on US foreign policy and Congress, said the high number of women running this year is not surprising following the #MeToo movement and the Supreme Court nomination that saw Brett Kavanaugh take a seat on the now right-leaning Supreme Court, casting a dark cloud over issues including reproductive rights and access to abortion.

    All of the other woman running, all the way down, we see, we realise that these women are powerhouses, they are determined. The community is determined.

    Patricia Ackerman, candidate for Nevada's State Assembly District 39

    He said that with more women serving in office, people can expect a more cooperative leadership style.

    "Studies show that with more women in legislature it provides a more collaborative leadership by the elected officials, which is certainly needed today," he said.

    For Ackerman, her journey has not only brought her closer to her community, but to other female candidates wanting to make history in Nevada.

    "All of the other woman running, all the way down, we see, we realise that these women are powerhouses, they are determined. The community is determined," she said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News