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The Journal Gazette

  • Ocasio-Cortez

  • Blackburn

Thursday, November 08, 2018 1:00 am

Winners make diversity history

Several represent firsts in gender, race, ethnicity

Kayla Epstein and Eugene Scott | Washington Post

The results of the 2018 midterm election ushered in one of the most diverse groups of politicians in American history, bringing in a wave of governors, senators and representatives who will break decades or even centuries-long barriers when they are sworn in.

On the Democratic side, these races were viewed as a referendum not only on President Donald Trump, but in many cases on his version of identity politics, which in its final days played to the fears of his base, a group that is largely white, male and Christian.

Many female Democratic House candidates who prevailed on Election Day ran in opposition to Trump or his policies. Several were first-time candidates. Republican women, on the other hand, made history but were reluctant to mention their gender on the campaign trail, preferring to focus on issues.

Though prominent figures like Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida, failed to win their potentially historic elections, many candidates around the country became the first person of their gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation to be elected to their positions in their states, or in some cases, in the country.

Ayanna Pressley: Massachusetts' first black woman in Congress. Pressley's seat in Congress was all but assured after she upset longtime Democratic incumbent Michael E. Capuano in Massachusetts' 7th district. She won the general election after running unopposed.

Marsha Blackburn: First woman elected to the Senate from Tennessee. Blackburn, a Republican member of Congress who aligned herself closely with Trump and his policies during this race, defeated popular former Democratic governor Phil Bredesen in a tight race by 10 points. She will take over the seat held by Sen. Bob Corker, a frequent Trump critic.

Jared Polis: The first openly gay man elected governor. Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevy came out as gay while he was in office, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who is bisexual, won in 2016, but Polis will be the first man to win a governorship as an out gay man. Polis has been in Congress since 2009.

Jahana Hayes: Connecticut's first black woman in Congress. Hayes, a teacher, beat her opponent, Manny Santos, by 11 points.

Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids: America's first Native American women in Congress. Haaland has a long history in New Mexico state politics and working with native tribes. She was able to defeat her opponent, Janice Arnold Jones, by 22 points. Davids, a lawyer who will also be Kansas' first openly gay member of Congress, defeated incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder by nine points in a state that was handily won by Trump in 2016.

Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia: Texas's first Latinas in Congress. Escobar, an El Paso County judge, and Garcia, a state senator and former Harris County commissioner, make history in a state that is nearly 40 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. census data.

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar: America's first Muslim women in Congress. Tlaib ran unopposed in the general election, all but guaranteeing the former Michigan state legislator a seat in Congress. Omar, of Minnesota, is already a barrier breaker – in 2016, she became the first Somali American legislator in the country. She will now hold that distinction in Congress.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: America's youngest woman ever elected to Congress. At age 29, Ocasio Cortez of New York seizes the record from Rep. Elise Stefanik, who was elected at age 30 in 2014. She became a progressive star after her upset primary victory over Rep. Joseph Crowley, a high-ranking House Democrat.

Kristi L. Noem: First female governor of South Dakota. During the campaign, the Republican acknowledged the historic potential of her candidacy but preferred to focus on issues rather than gender. The current congresswoman beat her opponent, Billie Sutton, by four points.

Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer: Iowa's first women in the U.S. House. Iowa has sent women to the Senate and governor's mansions, but never to the House of Representatives. That changed Tuesday, when two women defeated Republican incumbents.

Janet Mills: First female governor of Maine. Mills, currently the state's attorney general, has won the governorship, checking another state off a long list that has never had a female chief executive.