Today, two dozen Black major party candidates are battling for U.S. Senate, governor and other high office positions across the country. This is already a record, and, if successful, some of the candidates would be the first Black people to hold the top elected offices in their states.
There have been seven Black senators and two governors elected in the nation’s history since Reconstruction. At least 28 states have had a Black representative in Congress, and Black Americans hold 56 seats in the House. In the midterms there are 11 running for Senate; 5 running for governor; and about eight running for high offices like attorney general, lieutenant governor and secretary of state. To that note, these elections could produce some historical firsts for their Black candidates.
Although the House of Representatives has seen more diversity in recent years, with the 116th Congress having the most diverse class of members in its history, the 2022 midterms could increase those numbers and offer some historic firsts. Democrat Summer Lee, a second-term Pennsylvania state House member, who is a favorite to beat out Republican Mike Doyle, would become the first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania. Community organizer Democrat Odessa Kelly would be the first openly gay Black congresswoman and the first Black woman to represent Tennessee in Congress if she wins against her Republican opponent, Rep. Mark Green.
These wins would help diversify the overwhelmingly white, male makeup of the highest offices and signal a modicum of progress in a country still feeling the racial ripple effects of Donald Trump’s presidency and the desire for change after the George Floyd protests of 2020. In Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams is hoping to defeat GOP Gov. Brian Kemp to become the state’s first Black governor — she’d also be the first Black woman in the country’s history to hold a governor seat. In Maryland, Rep. Anthony Brown could be the state’s first Black attorney general if he defeats Republican Michael Peroutka. Smaller historic races include Rep. Karen Bass’ bid to become Los Angeles’ first Black woman mayor.
Here are the Black major party candidates who could make history if they win high-office races in the midterms.
Democrat James is running against GOP incumbent John Boozman for U.S. Senate and would be the first Black member of Congress from Arkansas if successful. A small-business owner and community organizer, James has vowed to prioritize health care, education and economic growth. This comes at a time when Black women are running for local, state and federal offices in record numbers, according to Higher Heights for America PAC, a political action committee that works to elect Black progressive women nationwide.
In Arkansas, Democrat Chris Jones would be the first Black governor in the state’s history if he beats out Donald Trump’s former press secretary Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders. He’s spent his campaign visiting every county in the state, promising to promote education and economic growth if elected.
In Alabama, Democrat Flowers is battling GOP incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey to become governor. Flowers would be the first Black woman to hold the office in Alabama, and she’s already made history as the first Black woman from either major party to win the nomination for governor. A former educator, Flowers has said she would work to address gender-based pay disparities and reform the criminal justice system if elected.
Boyd, a Democrat, would be the state’s first Black U.S. senator if he beats out his Republican opponent, Katie Britt, in the midterms. A pastor in Florence, Boyd has long dedicated his influence to education, supporting workers, small businesses and affordable health care. Although his campaign has struggled with fundraising compared to Britt’s, he has remained hopeful, with a campaign spokesperson telling the Alabama news outlet WHNT, “Fortunately for us, money alone doesn’t determine who wins elections.”
Angela Underwood Jacobs
Republican Underwood Jacobs is hoping to replace Democratic incumbent Eleni Kounalakis as California’s lieutenant governor, a position that has served as a stepping stone to becoming governor in the past. Underwood Jacobs — who has campaigned on public safety, housing, and lowering taxes — would be the first Black woman to hold the office.
Democrat Thomas, a small-business owner, could become Connecticut’s first Black secretary of state. She is battling Republican Dominic Rapini for the position. Thomas has spent years working with nonprofit organizations and has focused her campaign on combating voter suppression and false claims of voter fraud.
U.S. Rep. Val Demings
Demings, a Democrat and currently a three-term congresswoman, is battling Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida for a Senate seat. If she wins, Demings, who has already made history as Orlando’s first woman police chief in 2007, would be the first Black person to represent Florida in the U.S. Senate. She’d be the second Florida woman in the office after some 40 years. Demings, who was on Joe Biden’s shortlist for vice president, has vowed to protect voting rights and prioritize public safety and employment.
Democrat Ayala is running for attorney general in Florida against Republican incumbent Ashley Moody, and, if successful, would be the state’s first Black attorney general. She’s already made history as Florida’s first Black state attorney in 2016 and made headlines in 2017 when two Orlando Police Department officers pulled her over for what some called an unnecessary traffic stop. Ayala is a fierce death penalty opponent, but received mixed reactions when she announced that her state attorney’s office would stop seeking death sentences.
No Black woman has ever been elected governor of Georgia. Now in her second bid for the position, all eyes are on Abrams, the Democratic nominee, and her GOP opponent, Gov. Brian Kemp, in the contentious race. Abrams has championed progressive ideas like extending child care and raising pay for teachers. Since her 2018 upset to Kemp, Abrams has prioritized combating voter suppression and mobilizing voters. Prior to her first bid for governor, she founded the New Georgia Project, which emerged as one of the most fervent voter support groups in 2020.
Iowa Democratic gubernatorial candidate DeJear is among a handful of Black women who would potentially make history if they win their races and become the first Black woman governors in the U.S. DeJear, the first Black woman to earn a major party’s nomination for Iowa governor, is trying to upset Republican incumbent Kim Reynolds. With limited campaign funds, DeJear has relied on a grassroots approach, visiting counties across the state to spread her message of stronger education policies and reproductive rights.
Democrat Booker is up against Republican incumbent Rand Paul to represent Kentucky in the U.S. Senate. He would be the first Black person elected to the Senate from that state. Booker, a former state lawmaker, has not minced words about his opponent, calling Paul a “barrier” to progress, according to The Associated Press. He has campaigned on plans to expand health care access, defend reproductive rights and address climate change.
Chambers, a Democrat, would be the first Black U.S. senator from Louisiana if he wins his long-shot bid for the seat against Republican incumbent John Kennedy. A Baton Rouge-area activist, Chambers has prioritized education, health care and job creation.
Moore, a Democrat, would be Maryland’s first Black governor, and the third Black elected governor in the country, if he beats out Republican Dan Cox. Moore, the former head of the anti-poverty nonprofit the Robin Hood Foundation, has drawn praise from Oprah Winfrey and President Joe Biden. He has said he is focusing his campaign on the economy and education.
U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown
Democrat Brown is hoping to leave his Maryland congressional seat to become the state’s first Black attorney general. The Army veteran is running against the far-right Republican Michael Peroutka. If successful in the midterms, Brown would replace Attorney General Brian Frosh, who last year announced his retirement and said he would not seek re-election. Brown has campaigned on issues including public safety — with vows to address gun violence and the juvenile justice system.
Democrat Campbell, a former Boston City Council president, could become Massachusetts’ first Black woman attorney general if she beats out Republican Jay McMahon. Campbell unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Boston in 2021 before seeking the attorney general position. Attorney General Maura Healey, who is running for governor, has supported Campbell’s bid for attorney general, according to NBC Boston affiliate WBTS. She has pointed to gun restrictions, mental health and the opioid crisis as issues she’d prioritize if elected.
Republican Campbell is looking to unseat incumbent Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat, and become the first Black woman to hold the office in Massachusetts. Campbell is a controversial figure, having falsely claimed the 2020 election was rigged, per CNN, and having made an unsubstantiated claim about educators encouraging sex acts among young children, WBTS reported.
Democrat Beasley of North Carolina is running for U.S. Senate against GOP Rep. Ted Budd. If successful, she would be the first Black woman elected to the chamber in the state’s history. In 2019, she became the first Black woman to serve as chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Her campaign is focused on issues like affordable health care and employment.
Pinion, a Republican, is running against Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer for the U.S. Senate in New York. He received GOP support during his campaign and would be the first Black senator from New York if elected. A political-commentator-turned-politician, Pinion has said the economy, crime across his state and education are among his main priorities.
If Clark, a Democrat, wins against Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, she will become the first Black woman to hold the office in Ohio. Clark, a small-business owner and founder of an education nonprofit, The STEM Lab, has focused her campaign on issues like voter suppression and supporting small businesses. Clark and LaRose have butted heads on redistricting, with Clark worried that Republicans will pass gerrymandered congressional maps in the redistricting process. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee has endorsed Clark, according to The Statehouse News Bureau.
Democrat Davis would be Pennsylvania’s first Black lieutenant governor if he’s elected over Republican state Rep. Carrie DelRosso. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and the Human Rights Campaign PAC have endorsed Davis.
Matthews, a Democrat, is fighting to oust Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and become the first Black woman to represent South Carolina in the U.S. Senate. Matthews, who has served in the state House of Representatives since 2018, has already made history as the first Black woman to represent the state’s 117th District. Last month, some Democrats called on Matthews to drop out of the race after leaked audio appeared to show her making “disparaging” remarks about white voters, the AP reported. She has refused to step down.
Wisconsin could have its first Black senator in Democrat Barnes if he defeats incumbent GOP Sen. Ron Johnson. He already made history in 2018 when he became the state’s first Black lieutenant governor. He’s credited with helping oust former Republican Gov. Scott Walker alongside now-Gov. Tony Evers. Earlier this month, news broke that former President Barack Obama would head to Wisconsin for an event on Oct. 29 to boost Barnes in the tight battle.