The first female combat veteran. A daughter of Haitian immigrants. A 37-year old Harvard wunderkind. The youngest woman ever.
It’s an array that in past years might have sounded like the stuff of a Democrat’s dream press release, but it’s actually a sampling of just a few of the much-talked-about Republicans who won contested races Tuesday night.
As the dust settles after their rout of Democrats, the GOP can boast of an influx of dynamic congressional talent that looks younger and more heterogeneous than ever.
The average age of the new class of Senate Republican freshmen clocks in at just under 50 years old. Compare that to the average age of senators in the 113th Congress: a relatively creaky 62. And even that figure seems like spring-chicken material compared to the average age of the Democratic Party’s congressional leaders: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (74), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (75), soon-to-be-former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (74), and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (69).
That new GOP freshman class includes Joni Ernst, the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress and a company commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom; Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who at 37 will be the youngest member of the Senate; Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who will serve as the state’s first female senator; and newly promoted former Reps. James Lankford (age 46) and Cory Gardner (age 40). Originally appointed in 2012, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina also just became South Carolina’s first elected black senator.
Republican candidates made history in the House as well. Utah’s Mia Love isn’t just the first Haitian American to serve in Congress – she’s the first black GOP congresswoman ever. At age 30, New York’s Elise Stefanik is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. With his 10 point win over incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop, Lee Zeldin will replace defeated former Majority Leader Eric Cantor as the body’s only Jewish Republican. And an openly gay Republican, California’s Carl DeMaio, is clinging to a narrow lead as mail and provisional ballots are counted; he would be the first to serve since Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe retired in 2007.
The new generation of leaders comes six years after President Barack Obama built an historic coalition, with big chunks of the electorate made up of voters under 30 (18 percent) and non-white voters (26 percent.) This cycle, younger voters made up just 13 percent of the electorate, and the group broke far less dramatically for Democrats; these voters favored Democrats by a margin of 54 to 43 percent, compared to a two-to-one split in 2008.
But after tepid participation from Democrats’ base voters, the bleary-eyed morning after the election merits a hard look for Democrats at a cast of leaders who might look stale in comparison to Republicans’ new freshman starting lineup.