Congressional candidate Katie Hill rock climbing. (Courtesy Katie Hill campaign)
A record number of women are running for federal office in 2018. KQED's series "The Long Run" focuses on some of them.
Political ads are meant to grab voters' attention and that's certainly what Democrat Katie Hill was going for with a standout ad from last spring. It features Hill scaling the side of a mountain as the wind whips her hair.
“But here? Where we’re from? We’re not afraid of hard work," she tells the camera as she searches for a hand hold.
Hill’s campaign released the ad in the primaries, when she was trying to break away from several other Democratic challengers. It worked -- Hill is now facing incumbent Republican congressman Steve Knight in the highly competitive general election.
"We needed something that was going to get people's attention and that was going to get past the noise of normal advertisements and political ads," Hill said.
Democratic media consultant Kelly Gibson said the ad is effective because it’s authentic. Hill really is a rock climber. But it also portrayed her as strong and determined, qualities Gibson said women often need to convince voters they have.
“There’s stereotypical attributes about men -- leadership, aggression, the ability to speak up," Gibson said. "I think showing a woman in some of those more typically male spaces allows voters to sort of assume those qualities without us having to prove those qualities.”
Political consultant Rose Kapolczynski said women candidates may have an advantage in this year's campaign because voters want something new and different, and many times women represent that.
"At the same time women need to work harder to be seen as credible and qualified," she said.
And women face a delicate balance. While they want to show they’re strong, voters also expect to see their compassionate side. Kayla Jones is 24 and running for mayor of Seaside (Monterey County), where she currently serves on the City Council. She chooses to highlight her family in her campaigns. Jones said it humanizes her.
“I like to show off my daughter and show off that I am a young mother, and my husband and I are a working family. And that we share the same experiences as Seaside voters," she said.
Jones doesn't have the money for expensive TV ads -- but she has a relatively small number of voters to reach, about 8,000.
The lack of television spots might be a bigger issue for Republican Morgan Murtaugh, who is 26. She is running in a long-shot bid for Congress near San Diego, challenging Democratic incumbent Susan Davis. Because the race isn't considered competitive, Murtaugh has had a tough time raising money.
But she does have the benefit of being a social media native.
“Social media’s been a part of my entire life," she said. "I’ve been doing a lot of social media since I started getting involved in politics.”
Murtaugh is relying on her social networking skills and other grass-roots methods to get her message out to voters. Kapolczynski said television is important in large races, but other methods can work too.
"Most campaigns that are well-funded are going to invest heavily in TV because experience and research shows that it works," she said. "The benefit of digital and mail is that you can hypertarget just to the voters you think are open to hearing your message."
However campaigns choose to advertise, Democrat Hill said it’s important to acknowledge what’s at stake for women.
“This isn’t just about my race or about even flipping Congress," Hill said. "But this is a chance for us to equalize the number of women who are representing us in Congress.”
Candidates hope that message will drive voters to the polls, no matter where they hear it.