Record number of women appear headed to Congress

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A record number of women appeared headed to Congress as polls closed Tuesday. Overwhelmingly, they are Democrats critical of the direction President Trump is taking the country.

“There will be a historic number of women walking into Congress in January,” said Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, an influential Democratic-leaning group that supports women in politics. “The only question now is whether it will be a good night or a great night for women.”

Women have never held more than 20 percent, or 107, of the 535 seats in Congress, the current number.

That percentage is lower than in many other countries, from Mexico to Britain, and is seen as a reason the United States has never elected a female president.

But this year, women ran for office in unprecedented numbers, mostly as Democrats and many as first-time candidates. The stars of the new class included women who were among the first to serve in combat when the military decided those roles were no longer just for men.

Even conservative estimates pointed to at least two dozen more women joining the House.

Women were poised to make inroads in statehouses, too. Only six states have women at the helm.

Georgia had the most high-profile governor’s race. Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who won the backing of former president Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, was aiming to be the first black female governor in the nation.

Abrams is running in a Republican state against Trump-backed candidate Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, who cast himself as a “politically incorrect” hard-line immigration candidate like the president.

Notably, Michigan Democrats selected a woman for every statewide office on Tuesday’s ballot: governor, U.S. senator, attorney general and secretary of state.

The women who ran this year were remarkably diverse — black, Latina, Native American. But noticeably absent on ballots were more Republican women.

In fact, though only 10 percent of the current Republican members of the House are women, that number was expected to dip lower.

“We need to go out and get our women engaged,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership. “We are being dwarfed by the Democrats. This is something we are going to focus on.”

Chamberlain said she hears voters in key districts talking mostly about an affordable health-care system that serves everyone, even those with preexisting medical conditions. That has been the loud and clear message of many Democratic candidates.

Among the new faces coming to Congress:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, 29, a Latina who defeated incumbent Joseph Crowley in a decisive primary, is set to become the youngest House member ever elected.

In Virginia, Democrat Jennifer Wexton unseated Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock.

Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, the Democratic nominee in the strongly Democratic 5th Congressional District, is a Somali American and former refu­gee. At a rally Monday night in Minneapolis, the crowd cheered wildly, and she danced as she was introduced.

“The opportunity to be here, to participate in this democracy, has made me want to dance, and door-knock and talk to people and invite people to the joy of what it means to participate in a democracy,” she told a crowd of volunteers.

“What I want to do for you is have my energy be contagious,” she said.

While men with military backgrounds have long been recruited to run for office, this year’s candidates include several female veterans.

Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force veteran and first-time Democratic candidate, was favored to win Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District race. She would replace retiring Rep. Ryan Costello, a Republican.

In Arizona, a close race between Republican Martha McSally, a former Air Force fighter pilot, and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who is openly bisexual, means that Arizona will have its first female senator no matter who wins.

They are vying for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.

A record 33 of the Tuesday’s matchups for Congress were women vs. women. In Florida, Democrat Donna Shalala, the former president of the University of Miami and Cabinet member during the Clinton administration, was on track to defeat Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a broadcast journalist of Cuban heritage, according to early results.

“Are women fired up? That is putting it mildly,” said Jen Cox, a founder of PaveItBlue. Her group, one of many formed since Trump’s election and after the Women’s March, connected thousands of women in the Atlanta area interested in becoming more politically active.

“It’s historic. It’s our turn in having a say in changing the face of politics,” Cox said.

Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said the female candidates in 2018 did not fit any particular mold.

“They have disrupted public expectations of how they behave, and what credentials and attributes they bring to politics,” Dittmar said. “And that could have long-term effects.”

Along with better health care, other key issues that helped propel women were their pledges to better protect the environment and to help stop the rising incivility and divisions among Americans.

“This is only just the beginning,” said Schriock, president of Emily’s List. “I think we are going to see a historical turnout of women in 2020 — this is not dying down.”

Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.



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