WASHINGTON – Women candidates on Tuesday broke the record for the number of first-time House members, with 26 winning their elections as Democrats took control of the chamber.
The previous record of 24 was set during 1992, the last “Year of the Woman.”
Next year’s freshman class will include women of color who have broken barriers in their states, plus the youngest woman ever elected to Congress – Democratic activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who turned 29 in October.
So far, 75 women have been elected to the House, as of 12:10 p.m. Eastern Time. Sixty-four of the House women are Democrats, including 25 of 26 newcomers, according to a USA TODAY analysis.
Nine women senators were elected, including one freshman – Marsha Blackburn, a GOP U.S. representative, who defeated Tennessee’s former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in her bid to become the state’s first woman senator. Seven of the women senators are Democrats.
Five women, meanwhile, have won governors’ races.
Women were poised to make significant electoral gains in this “Year of the Woman” election, driven largely by the massive “resistance” movement to President Donald Trump that began after the 2016 election. In CNN exit polls, almost 80% of voters said it was very or somewhat important to see more women elected. That was a higher priority for women than for men, but not by much, CNN said.
Women have smashed records this election cycle in terms of the number who filed to run, the number of women who became their party’s nominees for House, Senate and gubernatorial races, and even the number of women running against women in general election races.
It’s possible that women could lose seats in the Senate and they may not break the record for the number of women governors. But for the first time in history, Americans could elect more than 100 women to the House, said David Wasserman, the U.S. House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
“That would not be occurring without Donald Trump in the White House,” Wasserman said. “It is a direct reaction to his election.”
The majority of those women who ran for House seats – 185 – were Democrats, while 52 were Republicans. About one-third were women of color.
Among the barrier-breaking races:
- Michelle Lujan Grisham, a U.S. representative from New Mexico, became the first Democratic Latina governor.
- Sharice Davids, a Kansas Democrat and member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, and Deb Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat and member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe, were elected as the first Native American congresswomen. Results are still pending for Yvette Herrell, a GOP state representative in New Mexico and a member of the Cherokee Nation, who is running for Congress. Davids is also Kansas’ first LGBTQ member of Congress.
- Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have become the first Muslim women in Congress. Omar, a Democratic Minnesota state representative, already the nation’s first Somali-American legislator, is now the state’s first woman of color elected to Congress. Tlaib, a former Michigan state legislator who is also a Democrat, had no Republican opponent in the 13th Congressional District, which includes parts of Detroit.
- Guam elected its first woman governor, as former lawmaker Lou Leon Guerrero, a Democrat, claimed the position for her party for the first time since 2003.
- Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat who ran unopposed, became the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts.
“When you think about what is a representative democracy, making sure that the perspectives and experiences of the entire population are mirrored in those legislative institutions, whether it’s at the state level or the federal level, is important,” said Debbie Walsh, director of Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP). “Those experiences shape the policy priorities of those elected officials.”
Currently, 84 women serve as voting House members, including 61 Democrats and 23 Republicans. That has been the record since 2013, according to the Rutgers center.
Twenty-three women serve in the Senate, including six Republicans and 17 Democrats. Six women – two Democrats and four Republicans – are governors.
During the 1992 “Year of the Woman,” voters elected more new women – 24 – to Congress than in any previous decade, and that record has remained, according to Rutgers. That election followed Professor Anita Hill’s testimony on sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation to the Supreme Court.
This year, women have beaten records for winning primaries, from state legislatures to governorships to Congress, according to the CAWP. Their historic involvement follows the massive Women’s March to resist Trump’s presidency and the #MeToo movements’ protest against sexual misconduct in the workplace.
Some candidates have shared their own #MeToo movement stories in their campaigns. Others included their children in campaign ads, and in a couple of cases, even breastfed them. Another candidate, Liuba Grechen Shirley, a Long Island Democrat, won approval from the Federal Election Commission to use campaign funds for campaign-related child care expenses.
“To me, women win because she ran, whether she actually wins or not,” Walsh said.
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Contributing: Matt Wynn, John Kelly
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