By Samantha Cooney
September 13, 2018

Already in 2018, women candidates have broken the records for the number of candidates for governor, U.S. House and U.S. Senate. Depending on how the midterms go, they may make history again.

The November elections could see the first black woman to serve as governor, the first Native American woman in Congress and the first openly bisexual senator, among other firsts.

For now, signs remain strong that women candidates — especially on the Democratic side — will form a “pink wave” to rival or even outperform the so-called “Year of the Woman” in the 1992 elections.

Already this year, women have beaten the record for number of gubernatorial candidates filed, number of gubernatorial candidates to win a primary, number of Senate candidates filed, number of Senate candidates to win a primary, number of women serving in the Senate, number of House candidates filed and number of House candidates to win a primary and they’ve tied the record for the number of women serving in the House.

Come November, women could break even more records. And some of these candidates could make history of their own. For example, Republican Tennessee Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn could become the state’s first female senator.

Here’s a closer look at some of the women who could make history in the 2018 midterms.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez poses for a portrait in the Bronx on April 21, 2018.
Andres Kudacki

Could become the youngest woman elected to Congress.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old activist from the Bronx, pulled off a stunning upset on June 26, winning the Democratic nomination for New York’s 14th Congressional District. She defeated 10-term congressman Joe Crowley.

Ocasio-Cortez is all but certain to win the congressional seat in the heavily Democratic district. If elected, she’ll be the youngest woman to be elected to Congress. Republican Elise Stefanik currently holds the distinction: she was elected to the House of Representatives in 2014 at age 30.

Aside from her age, Ocasio-Cortez has attracted attention for her platform, which she describes as democratic socialism. She has advocated for Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage and housing as a human right, among other things.

Stacey Abrams

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams at a debate in Atlanta in 2018.
John Amis—AP

Could become the first black female governor in the U.S.

A former state legislator from Georgia, Stacey Abrams defeated Stacey Evans in Georgia’s Democratic primary on May 22. She’ll face off against Republican Brian Kemp in the general election in November — and if she wins, she’ll become the first black female governor in American history. She’s already made history as the country’s first black female gubernatorial nominee from a major party.

While Abrams was widely expected to win the primary, she’ll face an uphill battle in the general election. Georgia hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1998, and Donald Trump won the state in 2016.

Abrams ran her campaign as an unapologetic progressive in a conservative state, targeting non-voters and people of color to expand the electorate. She’s spoken candidly about her own $200,000 debt and her brother’s incarceration for drug-related charges. She’s been embraced by a variety of Democrats, including 2016 presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Lupe Valdez

Coverage of the 2016 Democratic National Convention from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA.
Ida Mae Astute—ABC via Getty Images

Could become Texas’ first openly gay and Latina governor.

Lupe Valdez became the first Latina and the first openly gay candidate to win the Texas gubernatorial nomination on May 22, defeating Andrew White in the Democratic primary. She’ll face off against incumbent Republican governor Greg Abbott in November. If she wins, she’ll become the state’s first openly gay and Latina governor.

Texas remains a conservative state, and voters haven’t elected a Democrat governor since Ann Richards in 1990. But Valdez told TIME in May that she believes she can pull out a victory.

“Everybody tells me it’s an uphill battle. But my response to them has always been: when hasn’t it been?” she said. “Was it easy when I was working two or three jobs to get through college? Was it a cake walk when I was in the military in a tank battalion? Was it easy when I took over a male dominated organization that did not want female leadership? I’m getting darn good at uphill battles. And I’m not done yet. I’ve got another one coming.”

Deb Haaland

Deb Haaland poses for a portrait in Albuquerque, N.M., on June 4, 2018.
Juan Labreche—AP//Shutterstock

Could become the first Native American woman to serve in Congress.

Deb Haaland, the former chairwoman of New Mexico’s Democratic Party, won the Democratic primary for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District on June 5.

Her district typically votes Democratic, meaning that Haaland — a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe — will likely win the race in November and become the first Native American woman to serve in Congress. Two Native American men — both Republicans — currently serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Haaland’s platform includes advocating for Medicare for All, subsidizing early childhood care and education and protecting and expanding an Obama-era immigration policy that allowed people brought to the United States illegally as children to defer deportation.

“It’s not that native women haven’t tried. Ada Deer tried. Kalyn Free tried. Denise Juneau tried a couple years ago,” Haaland told TIME in June. “I’m not exceptional. I didn’t grow up with privilege. I almost feel like my winning is a shoutout to democracy everywhere.”

Marsha Blackburn

Chairman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., conducts a House subcommittee markup in Rayburn Building on June 13, 2018.
Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Could become Tennessee’s first female Senator.

Republican Marsha Blackburn, who currently serves in the U.S. House of Representatives, won the Republican nomination to fill retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker’s Senate seat in the Republican primary on Aug. 2.

Blackburn, who has received support from President Donald Trump, will face off against Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen, who served as Tennessee’s governor from 2003 to 2011. The race is widely viewed as a toss up. If Blackburn wins the seat, she’ll be the first female senator from the state. The state has elected six total women to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Despite the history she could make, Blackburn has made a point not to highlight her gender. She famously preferred to be called “congressman” when she entered the House, and she told the Washington Post in May when asked about the potential significance of her Senate bid: “I don’t campaign on the gender issue.” But a spokesperson for her campaign did say that anyone who doubted her ability to win in November was “just a plain sexist pig.”

Gina Ortiz Jones

Gina Ortiz Jones, candidate for Texas' 23rd Congressional district, is interviewed by CQ Roll Call at their D.C. office, October 20, 2017.
Congressional Quarterly—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Could become the first Filipina-American in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gina Ortiz Jones, an Iraq war veteran, won the Democratic nomination on May 22 to compete for a House seat in Texas’ 23rd Congressional district. She’ll face Republican incumbent Will Hurd, one of two black Republicans in the U.S. House, in November. The district has switched between Democratic and Republican lawmakers in recent years.

Ortiz Jones, the daughter of a single mother who emigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines, says that she will fight for Medicare for All and to allow people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to defer deportation.

If Ortiz Jones wins, she’ll be the first Filipina-American in the U.S. House. She’ll also be the first openly gay woman to represent Texas in Congress. (There have been three Filipino-American men elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Tammy Baldwin, a current U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, was the first openly gay woman elected to both the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.)

Kyrsten Sinema

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., walks down the House steps following the final scheduled votes of the week on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.
Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Could become the first openly bisexual senator.

Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat currently representing Arizona in the House of Representatives, won the Democratic primary on Aug. 29 to run in the general election for Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat. She’ll face off against Martha McSally, a member of the U.S. House who won the Republican primary. The race will make history either way: whoever wins will be the first female senator from Arizona.

Sinema is known as a more moderate Democrat in the House, voting with Trump’s position nearly 60% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. She opposes Medicare for All and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Sinema, a former social worker who was homeless for part of her childhood, became the first openly bisexual member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2013.

Christine Hallquist

Vermont Democratic gubernatorial nominee Christine Hallquist speaks at a Vermont Democratic Unity Rally on August 15, 2018 in Burlington, Vermont.
Hillary Swift—Getty Images

Could become the first openly transgender governor.

Democrat Christine Hallquist defeated three other candidates in Vermont’s gubernatorial primary on Aug. 15, becoming the first openly transgender candidate to be nominated for a governorship by a major party. If she wins in November, she’ll be the country’s first transgender governor.

Hallquist will face off against Vermont’s incumbent governor Phil Scott, who has served since 2017, in the general election. Vermont has historically flipped between Republican and Democratic governors since the 1960s.

Hallquist, who has said she’s received death threats since running, has run on a platform to provide broadband internet access across the state, raise the minimum wage to $15 and address racial disparities in Vermont’s criminal justice system. Hallquist previously served as the CEO of one of Vermont’s largest utility companies.

“My path to being my authentic self was certainly not easy,” she said at her campaign launch event. “However, it’s always been important to me to live openly and honestly.”

Ayanna Pressley

Ayanna Pressley, Boston City Council member and Democratic candidate for congress, delivers her victory speech on September 4, 2018.

Could become the first black Congresswoman from Massachusetts.

Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman to serve on Boston’s City Council, defeated 10-term Democratic congressman Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary for Massachusetts’ 7th district on Sept. 4.

There is no Republican challenger on the ballot, meaning Pressley will likely join Congress as the state’s first black Congresswoman.

Pressley argued that her majority-minority district should be represented by a person of color. Her platform differs little from Capuano, who has been a consistent progressive vote in Congress. As a sexual assault survivor, Pressley has fought to end sexual violence and gun violence. She also advocated for defunding Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Medicare for All.

Rashida Tlaib

Rashida Tlaib is shown in front of the Michigan Capitol after her election as the first Muslim woman to serve in the state House.
Al Goldis—AP/Shutterstock

Could become the first Muslim woman and first Palestinian-American in Congress.

Rashida Tlaib, a Democratic Michigan state representative, won the Democratic nomination for former Rep. John Conyers’ seat in Congress in August. She’s running unopposed for the seat to represent Michigan, meaning that she’ll likely become the first Muslim woman in Congress.

It’s a distinction she could share with Ilhan Omar, who won a Democratic primary for a House seat in Minnesota, if they both win their races and arrive in Washington in January 2019.

Tlaib was born to Palestinian immigrants in Detroit and served in the Michigan House from 2009 to 2014. She also worked as an attorney as the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice. Her platform includes immigration reform, Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage and debt-free higher education.

Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar gives an acceptance speech on election night, Nov. 8, 2016 in Minneapolis.

Could become the first Somali-American in Congress.

Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American Muslim person to become a legislator when she was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016 as a Democrat. And now, she could become the first Somali-American in Congress. In August, she won the Democratic primary for Rep. Keith Ellison’s seat.

In November, Omar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee, will face off against Republican Jennifer Zielinski. If she wins, she could also be one of the first two Muslim women in Congress alongside Tlaib.


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