These are the Women Who Made History in the Midterm Elections
Nov 7, 2018
When women commit to getting something done, there's no stopping them. The 2018 midterms were no exception.
Women running for office broke nearly every record in the book: 3,379 women filled the ballots for state legislatures across the country, which is 700 more than the former historic high. And 235 women are on the ballot for the U.S. House of Representatives alone, which is 40 percent more than the last record.
And on Election Day, women were rewriting history every hour as returns came in from the polls.
These candidates came from different states, different backgrounds, and bring a whole new set of different perspectives (finally!) to Capitol Hill. From the first Muslim women in Congress to the youngest women ever elected to serve, these are the most notable female firsts on the national level that took place on Election Day.
Ayanna Pressley (D-MA): First African-American Congresswoman in Massachusetts
Ayanna Pressley is the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress, but she's actually used to shattering ceilings.
Pressley, 44, already made history as the first woman of color elected to Boston's City Council in 2009. Then, the Boston-native turned heads in September when she beat out 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary. With no Republican opponent to face in the General Election, Pressley sealed her seat in Congress and also became the first black congresswoman in all of New England.
"I committed to running a campaign for those who don't see themselves reflected in politics or government and are forever told their issues, their concerns, their priorities can wait," she said in her victory speech. "But as we all know, change can't wait."
Besides, Pressley added, "my mother did not raise me to ask for permission to lead."
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY): Youngest Woman Ever Elected to Congress
She was told to wait her turn. That her time would come. Instead the Bronx native dismissed the warnings and made it clear her time is now.
At 29, newly elected congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proved the doubters wrong and became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. The Latina first made headlines when she beat out 14-year incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in a stunning upset earlier this year before easily defeating her Republican opponent to earn her seat.
The first-time candidate was working as a bartender and waiting tables when she began her powerful grassroots movement campaign just two years ago. "Women like me aren't supposed to run for office—I wasn't born to a wealthy or powerful family. But we have to ask ourselves: Who has New York been changing for?" Ocasio-Cortez challenged viewers in her campaign video. Now Ocasio-Cortez is ready to change Congress, making it a little less male and a little less pale.
"We launched this campaign because in the absence of anyone giving a clear voice on the moral issues of our time, it is up to us to voice them," Ocasio-Cortez said on Tuesday night after her win. "We can be confident that what we are standing up for is right. And we will never be ashamed for fighting for what is right."
Rashida Tlaib (D-MI): First Muslim Woman Elected to Congress
Rashida Tlaib, an attorney and author, can now add first Muslim woman ever elected to Congress to her list of accolades. And they are all hard-won titles for the Detroit native, 42, who has always faced life's challenges with her own brand of defiance. When her Palestinian family was targeted for being Muslim after 9/11, Tlaib doubled down on her activism to support underrepresented communities in Detroit, which is home to the largest Arab-American population in the country. When she was asked for her birth certificate by the chairman of the Michigan Legislature, she announced her run for the U.S. House of Representatives.
"I'm not going to be forced out just because I'm Muslim. I'm going to be showing people that if you work hard enough, if you love your community enough, you can do whatever the heck you want," Tlaib told MAKERS.
Now Tlaib is one of the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress. "I'm going to be showing people that if you work hard enough, if you love your community enough, you can do whatever the heck you want."
Ilhan Omar (D-MN): First Somali-American Elected to Congress
Omar joins Rashida Tlaib as the first Muslim woman in Congress bringing radical change to their midwestern states. Omar, a 36-year-old former refugee, will be the first Somali-American elected to Congress. Omar won the seat vacated by Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim man in Congress. Omar fled a civil war in her home country of Somalia, arriving in the U.S. at age 14. According to the Muslim-American, her interest in politics stems from her father and grandfather, who brought her to local Democratic Farmer Labor party caucuses. After finding refuge in the United States over two decades ago, Omar plans to fight for her fellow asylum seekers in Congress.
"Here in Minnesota, we don't only welcome immigrants; we send them to Washington," Omar told supporters at a victory party on Tuesday.
Deb Haaland (D-NM): First Native American Woman Elected to Congress
Deb Haaland, a member of the tribe Pueblo of Laguna, became one of the first Native American women elected to Congress. Throughout her life, when the odds were stacked against her, the New Mexico representative, 57, fought to come out on top.
The single mom lived paycheck to paycheck, putting herself through college and law school. Then she made history when she became the first Native American to chair a major state party in 2015. But Haaland refused to stop there. In a tight Democratic primary race, Haaland defeated former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, an activist and former law professor. She then ultimately beat out Republican Janice Arnold-Jones for the House seat.
With only two Native American congressmen on Capitol Hill, 2018 has seen a record-breaking number of indigenous people step up and run for office. As a result, Haaland joins Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids to become the first ever Native American women to serve in Congress.
"In 230 years, there's never been a Native American woman in Congress," Haaland told ABC News. "I have never seen myself in that body of our government." Now Haaland is changing the game so future generations won't know what that feels like.
Sharice Davids (D-KS): First Lesbian Native American Woman Elected to Congress
Along with being one of the first Native American women in Congress, Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids also became the state's first openly gay representative at the state and federal level.
The former MMA fighter's congressional race was hard won from the start. The 38 year-old member of the Ho-Chunk Nation first made national headlines when she beat out five other candidates in her Democratic primary. In the final round of her midterms fight, Davids took on her most difficult opponent yet: four-term incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder. However, Davids came out victorious, becoming the first Democrat to win the Kansas City seat in a decade.
"It is like being in the third round of a fight, and you've already pushed as hard as you can in the entire fight," Davids said. "Then you hear your coach yell '10 seconds' and you get that last little bump of energy. That is what this feels like."
Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia (D-TX): First Latina Women Elected to Congress in Texas
Texas, a state whose population is 40% hispanic, has never sent a Latina to Congress. We repeat: Texas has never sent a Latina woman to Congress. This ended Tuesday when the Lone Star state finally elected its first two Latina congresswomen: Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia.
Veronica Escobar, a former County Commissioner and Judge for El Paso, won the House seat for Texas' 16th District— a position previously held by Democrat Beto O'Rourke. Escobar will bring a strong voice for decriminalizing unauthorized immigration for the district that runs along the US-Mexico border. "We want to send a very powerful message to Washington, D.C. that the border [community] will not sit on the sidelines during an era of unprecedented racism," Escobar said at a press conference held by EMILY's List, a political action committee that helps elect pro-choice Democratic women.
Sylvia Garcia previously served as Houston's City Controller and Texas State Senator before winning Texas' 29th congressional district. Garcia, 68, beat out two male opponents, Republican Phillip Aronoff and Libertarian Cullen Burns, to join Escobar as one of the first Latinas to Congress in the state's 172-year history. But for Garcia, it's not about being first— it's about "being the best for my people."
"This is a very critical time for our country, when our core values are being challenged every single day with a president that seems to govern by tweets and by targeting immigrants, Muslims, Latinos, women, everyone that looks different. People have had enough. I am going to represent them," Garcia said at her victory party Tuesday night. "Tonight, we sent a message that working people, Latinos, women, millennials, we are not going to get pushed around anymore. We have had enough."
Lauren Underwood (D-ILP): Youngest Black Woman in Congress
Registered nurse Lauren Underwood had the perfect Rx for this fall: Run for office to cure the government's problem with diversity. Now Underwood is the first woman represent her district from Illinois in the House—a seat that has historically only been occupied by a white man. And by owning that title Underwood, 32, is also the youngest black woman to serve in Congress.
During the primary season alone, Underwood had to beat out six white men just to get her name on the ballot. Then the former Obama administration official faced an uphill battle against Randy Hultgreen, a Republican incumbent who won in 2016 by more than 20 points. But Underwood was determined to beat Rep. Hultgreen, who supports the GOP healthcare plan that weakened protections for pre-existing conditions. "I decided, you know what? It's on. I'm running," said Underwood, who centered her campaign around affordable healthcare.
"I was steeled against racism. I was ready for it," Underwood told ABC News. "What I found instead was sexism, and folks being a little uncomfortable with my age...This combination of being a young woman has not been something that people have had strong reactions to."
Clearly not all of them were bad.
For more about MAKERS in the Midterms and to get to know all the female politicians who made it their policy to advocate for women, click here