Women Fuel Democratic Takeover of House, While Senate Backslides

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Women Fuel Democratic Takeover of House, While Senate Backslides

Katelyn Burns

At least 95 women, including Congress' first Native and Muslim women, were elected to the House of Representatives.

Democrats seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday night with at least 220 seats as of Wednesday morning, with several races still too close to call.

The 2018 election could end up being remembered for its women candidates, with at least 95 women elected to the House alone, surpassing the 84 who currently serve. “Powered by a massive turnout of women and fueled by our incredible candidates, House Democrats gained several seats in the Heartland,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) Tuesday night in a statement. Democrats picked up House seats in Bustos’ Illinois, as well as seats in other Midwestern states such as Iowa and Kansas. Minnesota’s Angie Craig became one of the few lesbians in the House of Representatives after defeating Republican Rep. Jason Lewis, who once compared gay people to rapists.

Democratic women like Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton in Virginia, and Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey, won victories in the Republican-held suburbs. Nearly two dozen suburban districts that had gone for Hillary Clinton in 2016 were still controlled by Republicans; Democrats flipped many of these seats Tuesday night and pulled off several major upsets in ruby-red districts as well.

In historically conservative Staten Island, New York, Max Rose surprised Republican Rep. Dan Donovan 53 to 47 percent. Perhaps the most shocking House result came in Oklahoma’s 5th district, consisting of Oklahoma City and surrounding areas, where Democrat Kendra Horn pulled off an upset over incumbent Steve Russell, becoming the first Democrat to win election in the district ever. In New York’s 19th district, which covers large swaths of the Catskill region and the Hudson Valley, voters went for Democrat Antonio Delgado, unseating conservative incumbent John Faso despite racist attacks.

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In speeches afterwards, the expected leaders of the Democratic House struck a moderate tone, promising to work toward progress with the Republicans they just defeated. “We will strive for bipartisanship, with fairness on all sides. We have a responsibility to find our common ground where we can, stand our ground where we can’t, but we must try,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in a victory speech. She is expected to be named the next speaker of the House during party leadership elections in the coming weeks, returning to being the only woman to hold that position in the nation’s history. In a congratulatory call afterwards, President Donald Trump spoke with Pelosi and acknowledged her call for bipartisanship.

The Senate was a different story for Democrats, with Republicans handily retaining the chamber despite a closer-than-expected race in Texas. Even with his record breaking fundraising numbers and unprecedented ground game, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) was defeated in the end by incumbent Ted Cruz (R-TX). The race was much closer than many prognosticators predicted. “For the last 22 months, I have been traveling every county in Texas,” O’Rourke said in his concession speech. “I have been there to listen to and show up for every one of us. I was inspired and I am as hopeful as I have ever been in my life. Tonight’s loss does nothing to diminish the way I feel about Texas or this country.”

Elsewhere, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) easily won over Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, giving the anti-choice extremist a seat in the Senate. Kevin Cramer (R) defeated incumbent Heidi Heitkamp for Senate in North Dakota.

In Nevada, Jacky Rosen won her hotly contested Senate race against Republican Dean Heller in the lone Democratic Senate pickup of the night. Advocates highlighted the impact of Rosen’s record on reproductive rights in a race that saw renewed energy from pro-choice voters this cycle. “At a time when Donald Trump and the anti-choice GOP continue to try and roll back our freedoms, Jacky Rosen is a beacon of hope and her victory is a sign of change to come,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue in a statement. “Tonight’s win shows that when candidates stand up for Nevada women and our essential rights—including the right to access abortion—they win.”

Rosen highlighted the wave of female victories in her victory speech Tuesday night. “On a night when women are winning up and down the ballot this is a historic night for us, because now Nevada joins to be the fifth state with two women senators,” Rosen said.

Ayanna Pressley became the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, winning an unopposed race in a Boston district that once elected John F. Kennedy. Pressley defeated ten-term incumbent Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA) in a primary in early September in a stunning upset.

New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Earlier this year she defeated Joe Crowley (D-NY), a Democratic congressional heavyweight, in a shock result during the district’s Democratic primary.

Democrat Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico became the first Native American women to be elected to Congress in history. “If I win my general election I’ll be extremely proud to have that designation,” Haaland told Rewire.News before the election. “What I feel most proud about, aside from the fact that I will have an opportunity to represent my district and the state that I truly love, is that I almost feel like maybe more women of color might feel that it’s a possibility for them to run and win as well.”  Davids is the first openly gay Kansan elected to Congress.

Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) will become the first Muslim women to serve in Congress in U.S. history. Omar, who spent most of her childhood years in a Kenyan refugee camp, is also the first Somali-American to be elected to Congress. Like Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

House Democrats wasted no time in signaling their intent to hold the Trump administration accountable, with Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) indicating the House Ways and Means Committee would request the president’s tax returns from the IRS, according to an NBC News report. The move could set up an early legal clash between the ascendent House Democrats and the administration.