ST. PAUL - Overshadowed by a mad dash of last-minute candidates seeking Minnesota's top offices, an apparent record number of women have filed to run for the state Legislature this year.
When filings for offices closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 5, at least 100 female candidates had officially signed up to run for the Minnesota House of Representatives. The state Senate is not up for election this year.
Although the tally was not final, "It feels like a record," said House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. About 90 women ran for the House in 2016.
This year, more than half of the DFL House candidates - 68 - are women. Republicans, who control the House by a 77-57 margin, had fewer slots to fill but still landed 32 female candidates.
Both Hortman and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said their caucuses didn't set out to recruit more women this year. "But strong ones stepped forward," the speaker said.
The #MeToo movement has helped fuel a wave of first-time women candidates running across the nation. But it wasn't the only factor for the Minnesota House contenders.
"I decided to throw my hat in the ring because I think this election, more so than any in my memory, is going to be a referendum on who we are as a district, as a state and as a nation," said Ruth Richardson, a first-time DFL candidate from Mendota Heights.
She's most troubled by the "partisan division" in the state and nation. "We need to do a better job of finding common ground."
Richardson said the #MeToo movement was "one of many factors" that prompted her to run.
Lisa Demuth, a rookie Republican candidate from Cold Spring, said the movement was important in providing women a platform to speak out on sexual misconduct, "but it was not a factor in my choosing to run."
An 11-year member of the Rocori district school board, Demuth said she was motivated primarily her passion for education.
Hortman cited two main reasons why more women are running.
The first is "historical progress," she said. The number of female candidates has gradually been increasing since the 1970s. Women now hold 49, or 37 percent, of the 134 seats in the Minnesota House.
The second factor is a series of political developments over that past two years, Hortman said. Donald Trump's defeat of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and the massive women's marches in Washington and around the nation the day after Trump's inauguration sparked the movement.
"The #MeToo movement gave us another reason to be vocal and engaged," she said, as did Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., being "told to sit down and shut up" and the shootings at schools and churches around the nation.
Both Daudt and Hortman predicted state House races will not be a referendum on Trump's performance.
The Republican speaker said Minnesotans have a well-earned reputation as "ticket splitters" who will vote for GOP candidates even if they disapprove of Trump, and the candidates run on what's going on in their districts, not in the White House.
While Trump won't be a major factor in state House races, Hortman said, "He will be a factor. ... It will be more about people being for a government that works, not a government that blusters and is cruel and conveys a tone of us against them."