When Losing is Winning: What Returning Female Candidates Gain From Previous Campaigns

Tonia Bui | Oct 17, 2019


What do former candidates Gina Ortiz Jones, Hiral Tipirneni, and Young Kim all have in common? They are women of color making another attempt to win a congressional seat. If elected in 2020, these female candidates (and many others across the nation) will help address the disproportionately low numbers of women of color in elected offices.

Losing women candidates who position themselves to run again demonstrate tenacity and resilience. According to the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, voters support the idea that losing an election is an advantage for a woman candidate’s next campaign. While they may have lost, former women candidates gain victories that do not come in the form of votes. The list below highlights a few advantages that former candidates can use to help boost their next run for office.

  • Name recognition. Unlike first time candidates, previous candidates (including political incumbents) have name identification they inherited from their last race. Former candidates may even attract some media buzz for running again. This name recognition is likely due to candidates needing to mention their name to voters more than seven times. Name identification is particularly important for candidates running at the state and local level because some voters rely on media coverage, such as newspaper endorsements, to make their decisions on who to vote for at the polls.


  • A community base. A candidate’s name recognition comes in tandem with the relationships she builds in the community. Results from a recent survey reveal that both Democratic and Republican voters favored listening tours, political party involvement, and helping other women run for office as some of the top ways for losing women candidates to get back on their feet. The same applies to Latina and African American women Overall, voters want to see a losing candidate become actively involved in their community after the election, regardless of her party affiliation.


  • New skills and knowledge. Returning candidates have many lessons learned from their previous campaign experiences. They spend countless hours stumping on many policy issues at forums, town halls, fundraisers, and at the doors of voters. By default, they fine tune public speaking skills and quickly grasp new policy issues. Additionally, losing candidates are positioned to improve their voter outreach strategies, address their weaknesses, and identify practices they could apply in their next race.

As demonstrated, losing women candidates end up benefiting from their previous races. We look forward to seeing more former women of color candidates decide to run again and leverage the tools they gained from their last races. A surge of women running multiple times will help experts strengthen their research on women candidates’ resilience. Such research is needed to better understand resilience among women of color candidates of emerging underrepresented communities, including Asian Americans and other ethnic groups, immigrants, and youth.


Note: The author thanks Madalene Mielke, President and CEO of Asian Pacific American Institute of Congressional Studies for contributing to this article.

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