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Updated 5 years ago

Women candidates smash more barriers in history-making election night

A record-setting night also delivered the youngest woman and first female Muslims ever elected to the House.
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Women are heading to the House of Representatives in record-shattering numbers.

As of Thursday, 101 women have won House seats, breaking the current session's record of 84 women. The number will rise: a handful of races remain undecided, including one between two women in California.

It is the latest in a year of record-breaking for women, who filed to run for Congress in historic numbers and won their primaries in historic numbers, too. So far, 123 women won their races out of 276 House, Senate, and gubernatorial candidates on the ballot: 13 women won Senate bids and nine women won gubernatorial races.

Democratic congressional candidate Ilhan Omar
Democratic congressional candidate Ilhan Omar is greeted by her mother-in-law after appearing at her election night party in Minneapolis on Nov. 6, 2018.Eric Miller / Reuters

And it's not just in the numbers: Democrat Kyrsten Sinema flipped an Arizona Senate seat to become the first openly bisexual U.S. Senator. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman elected to the House, while Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are the first Muslim women elected to the House. Sharice Davids, a lesbian, lawyer and former mixed martial arts fighter, defeated a Republican incumbent in Kansas and will join Debra Haaland of New Mexico, another winning Democrat on Tuesday, as the first Native American women elected to Congress. Ayana Pressley became the first black woman to be elected to Congress by Massachusetts, and Jahana Hayes became the first black woman to be elected to Congress by Connecticut. New Mexico elected a woman to succeed another female governor, marking the first time the state has chosen back-to-back female governors.

Women were responsible for a slew of Democratic gains key to retaking control of the House, as well: Elaine Luria, a Democrat, won in Virginia's 2nd District, and Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat, won in Virginia's 10th. Democrat Abby Finekenaur won in Iowa's 1st Congressional District and Abigail Spanberger did so in Virginia's 7th District. All defeated Republican incumbents.

There were a handful of surprises — Democrat Kendra Horn won a safe Republican seat in Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District — and some notable losses by women. Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot, lost her bid for the House in Kentucky and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp lost her re-election race.

Nine women won governorships, tying a previous record. All four incumbent women governors — Alabama's Republican Kay Ivey, Iowa's Republican Kim Reynolds, Rhode Island's Democrat Gina Raimondo, and Oregon's Democrat Kate Brown — held their seats, but governor's mansions around the country will also see fresh faces.

Democrat Laura Kelly defeated Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach in Kansas, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer won in Michigan, and Democrat Janet Mills won in Maine. The record could still be broken if Georgia's Stacey Abrams — whose race is too close to call with Republican Brian Kemp in the lead, according to NBC News — wins the seat.

The surge of women was fueled almost entirely by Democrats, who put an unheard of number of women on the ballot. Half of all non-incumbent Democratic nominees to the House were women, compared to just 18 percent of non-incumbent Republican House nominees. Of the 276 women on the ballot Tuesday in House, Senate and governor's races, 77 percent were Democrats.

These women didn’t just break records, they set the political playbook on fire by throwing out the conventional wisdom that women must be twice as qualified, twice as polished and twice as careful as their male counterparts to mount a successful bid. In past years, women ran first for state and local offices, but this year’s contest attracted fighter pilots, teachers, executives, nurses and moms so fed up with politics they decided to run themselves.

Image: Democratic House candidate from Kansas Sharice Davids wins her House seat
Supporters of Democratic House candidate from Kansas Sharice Davids cheer and cry after learning she won at her election night watch party in Olathe, Kansas, on Nov. 6, 2018.Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Some hope this election will change things forever in a political world that has been dominated by men since the all-male assemblies of Athens. If women such as Iowa's Finkenauer, a 29-year-old Democrat who talks freely about her student loans in a bid against a tea party Republican incumbent, and Georgia's Lucy McBath, a flight attendant whose son's murder propelled her into politics, can run for Congress and win, the possibilities for others expand drastically.