LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
A new ad from a Democrat running to be governor of Wisconsin may not sound unusual.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "OUR GIRLS - KELDA ROYS FOR GOVERNOR")
KELDA ROYS: Government should be about helping every person achieve his or her potential, and Wisconsin used to do it so well.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kelda Roys is just doing what candidates do, pitching herself to voters while showing off her family. But what you can't see is that in the middle of her pitch, Roys starts breastfeeding her 3-month-old daughter. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben explains that we may see more of this in a year when women are taking politics by storm.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Breastfeeding may be as old as humanity, but doing so in a campaign ad appears to be new. In recent weeks, two gubernatorial candidates have unveiled ads in which they breastfeed. There's Kelda Roys in Wisconsin and Maryland's Democrat Krish Vignarajah. She's hoping to unseat the Republican incumbent in her state.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "KRISH VIGNARAJAH: I'M A MOM. I'M A WOMAN. AND I WANT TO BE YOUR NEXT GOVERNOR.")
KRISH VIGNARAJAH: Some say no man can beat Larry Hogan. Well, I'm no man. I'm a mom. I'm a woman. And I want to be your next governor.
KURTZLEBEN: It's perhaps no surprise that breastfeeding has come up on the campaign trail this year when women are running for office in unprecedented numbers. The ads represent one way that they are breaking political norms, norms largely shaped by men, to more fully reflect womanhood in their campaigns. For her part, Roys says that voters have responded well to her video.
ROYS: It's been overwhelmingly positive, and I've received all kinds of great, encouraging messages from people all over Wisconsin and all over the country.
KURTZLEBEN: And had she tried this kind of ad in any other year, when Democrats in particular weren't as energized by women candidates, Roys thinks it just wouldn't have worked.
ROYS: Well, I could have made it. I'm just not sure that the response would've been so positive.
KURTZLEBEN: Breastfeeding in a political ad might seem like a risky move and not just because many Americans are uncomfortable with women breastfeeding in public.
AMANDA HUNTER: A prime concern for voters is whether a woman candidate will be able to both serve her constituents and care for family at the same time.
KURTZLEBEN: That's Amanda Hunter, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which researches women in politics. In a 2016 study, the foundation found that voters concern themselves with women's family lives in a way that just doesn't happen for men.
HUNTER: They don't seem to face the same type of criticism and the same sort of blunt questions that you hear, anecdotally, women candidates talk about when voters might ask, who's watching your kids right now? Where are they?
KURTZLEBEN: A good way for candidates to respond, according to Hunter, is to simply be upfront about their family lives. And breastfeeding in an ad is certainly one way to do that. To Roys, her video has an added benefit of making her relatable to voters.
ROYS: I think there is a real hunger for candidates who are authentic and true to themselves and not overly poll-tested.
KURTZLEBEN: The decision to use the breastfeeding footage might have been a risk. But Roys feels that it helped her stand out in a primary field of more than a dozen candidates. Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News. Washington.
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