WASHINGTON – More women will serve in Congress than ever before, with at least 118 set to fill seats after Tuesday’s election.
As of midday on Wednesday, women had surpassed the current record of 107 voting members, according to race calls from the Associated Press analyzed by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The new total includes 31 first-time House members, seven more than the record set for freshmen women during the 1992 “Year of the Woman” election.
The surge was driven largely by Democrats as the party took over House control. Democrats account for 84 of 96 women set to serve in the House so far, including 30 of the 31 newcomers, according to a USA TODAY analysis.
Women will represent two-thirds of the districts that Democrats flipped, building on momentum from the “Resist” movement that followed President Donald Trump’s election in 2016.
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, of New York, who turned 29 in October.
Eleven women senators were elected, nearly all Democrats. Marsha Blackburn, a GOP U.S. representative, defeated Tennessee’s former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in her bid to become the state’s first woman senator. U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat, ousted Republican Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada.
Blackburn and Rosen will be joined by another freshman woman, although which one is not yet clear. Two U.S. representatives, Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, were locked in a tight Senate race in Arizona, where it may take days to count all ballots.
Nine women, meanwhile, have won governors’ races.
Women were poised to make significant electoral gains in this “Year of the Woman” election. 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.
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 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.
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, protests against sexual misconduct in the workplace contributed to women’s political involvement. 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,” Walsh said, even though Shirley lost her race on Tuesday.
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Contributing: Matt Wynn, John Kelly, Chrissie Thompson
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