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Twenty years ago, Cynthia Nixon began playing the ambitious lawyer Miranda Hobbes on HBO’s Sex and the City (or, as I call it in my head, “Gift from the Gods”). If you loved the show, you were likely to identify with one of the four main characters: Were you a Miranda – cynical, loyal, a secret romantic? Or Samantha, a tiger of carnal appetites? Or Carrie, a lovable neurotic? Or Charlotte, uptight but possessing a savant’s instinct about relationships?

Those of us who identified as Mirandas were pleasantly surprised to see Ms. Nixon announce this week that she’s challenging Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, to be the Democratic candidate in gubernatorial elections later this year. She has no political experience, but years of work as an activist for LGBTQ and educational issues.

This lack of experience led Mr. Cuomo’s ally Christine Quinn to call Ms. Nixon “an unqualified lesbian.” Ms. Quinn, a lesbian herself and former candidate for the New York mayoralty, later backtracked on her criticism, but it still allowed Ms. Nixon to score this zinger: “It’s true that I never received my certificate from the Department of Lesbian Affairs, though in my defense there’s a lot of paperwork required.”

If a political battle were fought as a dis war, Ms. Nixon would already be in Albany, recording a single about how she’d crushed her rivals. But it’s not, at least not entirely. The battle will be fought using the contents of a war chest (Mr. Cuomo’s is substantially larger; Ms. Nixon is so far relying on small-donor contributions and isn’t accepting money from corporations.) It will be run on issues (Ms. Nixon is running as a progressive on Mr. Cuomo’s left flank, on a platform of anti-corruption, as well as subway and education reform.)

It will, of course, also be a battle of brand recognition. As a political strategist recently told me, a famous name “is a shiny object for low-information voters.” Mr. Cuomo dismissed the idea of celebrity candidates by saying, “I’m hoping that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and Billy Joel don’t get into the race,” but that’s just sophistry. He is hardly a no-name product in a no-name box. He’s a sitting governor, and the son of a governor. “Cuomo” is a brand in New York, for better or worse.

Ms. Nixon is only the latest in a long and apparently undending line of celebrities making the leap to politics. “It’s not a joke,” Sonny Bono said plaintively as he announced his bid for the U.S. Senate in 1991 (though, to be fair, he’d already been mayor of Palm Springs.) Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to “terminate Gray Davis,” the sitting California governor, when he ran for the first of his two successful gubernatorial bids in 2003. In Canada, Kevin O’Leary left the bright spotlight of reality TV for the Conservative leadership race precisely long enough to moan about how the elites were ruining things, before fleeing the race when he realized that ruining things is actually quite a hard job.

Putting aside her celebrity, Cynthia Nixon is emblematic of a far more interesting trend: She’s part of a large, committed, progressive wave of female candidates running for office in the United States. This particular wave has unusual origins – it was first spotted in the middle of the country, right around Washington in January, 2017, just as a shark was spotted moving toward the White House.

“Angrinized” is the world that author and actress Amber Tamblyn coined to describe this new cohort. They are angry, and they’re organized. They are also numerous: It’s estimated that there will be twice as many women registered as candidates in the 2018 elections as there were in 2016. The majority of that increase has happened with candidates for the Democrats, but even the Republican party has seen a surge.

Many of the most interesting races involve women from communities traditionally marginalized from the political process – women who were not raised in the governor’s house in state capitals. There’s Lupe Valdez in Texas, for example: She’s an out lesbian, a former sheriff and military veteran, and daughter of migrant farm workers who’s running on a progressive platform to win the Democratic nomination for governor. (Her opponent, in a mirror of Ms. Nixon’s, is the son of a former Texas governor.)

In Georgia, the lawyer, state legislator and novelist Stacey Abrams is vying for the Democratic nomination for governor. If she wins, she’d be the first Black female governor in U.S. history (the country has never had a female Native American governor, either.) Like Ms. Nixon and Ms. Valdez, Ms. Abrams has talked about how her working-class roots helped form her tolerant, wide-ranging political ideology: She has a brother who’s incarcerated, for example, and criminal-justice reform is part of her platform.

It would be a day for champagne and rejoicing if a Black woman were to be elected governor of Georgia, or a Latina lesbian were in charge of the state legislature in Austin. They would be breaking ground unthinkable even a few decades ago. But there are formidable barriers standing in the way of the so-called “pink wave” of 2018: As the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University points out, newcomer female candidates suffer from an incumbency disadvantage, for one thing. And while the candidacies may be at a historic high – 35 per cent of potential Democratic Senate candidates and 13 per cent of Republican candidates are women – it still doesn’t come near matching the proportion of women in the U.S. population.

If Cynthia Nixon were to be elected governor of New York later this year, she would be the first woman to hold that job (I know, it shocked me, too. New York is one of 22 states that have never elected a female governor). Celebrity politicians are old hat by this point, but a woman in charge? Now that would be historic.

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