The 2018 midterms: the women we’re watching

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A woman casts her vote in Cambridge, Ohio (Justin Merriman/Getty Images)

For the first time in history, Americans could elect more than 100 women to the House come Wednesday. Looking at the 2018 midterm elections today, 238 women are major party candidates on the House ballot — 185 Democrats, 53 Republicans — and 23 women — 15 Democrats, 8 Republicans — are running for seats in the Senate. The women this cycle could break another glass ceiling and win more seats than ever before. Here are the women we’re watching today and the gender trends to which we’re paying close attention.

There are dozens of competitive races across the country that will determine the gender break-out of the upcoming class of Congress. The Democrats — 43 percent of whom are female congressional candidates — have run considerably more women these elections than the Republicans. Republican women make up 22 percent of their party’s Senate candidates and 13 percent of its House candidates. For these elections, Democratic women have the highest win rate of any group, both generally and among non-incumbents. Notably, there are 32 races this election with women as major party candidates for both their parties’ tickets — another record-breaking first.

Women to Watch: Record-Breaking Firsts

We’ll likely see the first Indigenous woman be elected to U.S. Congress this year. Both Deb Haaland (D NM-01) — a member of the Pueblo of Laguna — and Sharice Davids (D KS-03) — a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation — are favored to win, according to the Cook Political Report.

With no Republicans running against her, Rashida Tlaib (D MI-13) will most likely become the first Muslim-American woman in Congress. She will almost certainly be joined by Ilhan Omar (D MN-05), a former Somali refugee who is expected to easily win the seat formerly occupied by Keith Ellison.

Looking further south, Veronica Escobar (D TX-16) and Sylvia Garcia (D TX-29) are likely to be the first Latina women to represent their state’s congressional delegation in Texas. Both are considered solid Democratic seats. Gina Ortiz Jones (D TX-23) could join these women and break history in Texas to become the first Filipina-American woman in Congress.

Jahana Hayes (D CT-05), Pearl Kim (D PA-05) and Ayanna Pressley (D MA-07), all of whom are favored to win, could be the first women of color in their states’ congressional delegations.

The first openly bisexual Senate candidate, Krysten Sinema (D Ariz.), in her tight race against Rep. Martha McSally, could join Tammy Baldwin (D Wis.) in raising the number of LGBTQ+ members of the Senate to a record-breaking high this year. Either Sinema or McSally could be the first woman Senator from Arizona.

A number of Republican women could make history this cycle. Tennessee and Arizona could send women to the Senate for the first time in their state’s election history this year. Although both are in tight races, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and McSally could be the first female senators from their states. Only 30 states have had women represented in the Senate, and these women could make history with their elections.

Women to Watch: Close Elections

In addition to the women in Arizona and Tennessee, there are a number of highly competitive Senate races with women as strong competitors. North Dakota has one of the most closely watched races, with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp vying to keep her seat Democratic. The last weeks leading up to election have brought to light voter-suppression controversies regarding North Dakota’s change in voter ID laws, largely affecting the Indigenous population.

We’ll get more answers on the gender layout of the Senate with the Democrat’s Sen. Claire McCaskill in Montana and Rep. Jacky Rosen in Nevada. Both women are current members of Congress who are in extremely competitive battles for Senate seats this cycle.

The four most closely watched races in Virginia all feature at least one woman, with Democrats Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), Leslie Cockburn (VA-05) and Elaine Luria (VA-02) attempting to turn their red-leaning districts blue. Virginia’s 10th district is seeing a contested woman vs woman run as Democrat Jennifer Wexton attempts to unseat Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock.  

Women to Watch: Republican Women of Color

According to an analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics earlier this cycle, it is possible there will be no Republican women of color in the 116th Congress. Twelve races feature Republican women of color, the majority of which favor the Democratic candidates.

Of those 12 races, three women of color are running in races rated toss-ups by the Cook Political Report — incumbent Rep. Mia Love (R UT-04), Maria Elvira Salazar (R FL-27) and Young Kim (R CA-39) — and the Democratic candidates have outraised the Republican candidates in every race but Love’s. This includes Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R WA-03), who is being outraised by her Democratic opponent in a surprisingly competitive race.

Republican women as a whole will remain underrepresented, regardless of the outcome of the midterms.

If both Republican and Democratic women win all of the House races they are favored to win and toss-up competitive races, they will still only hold 24 percent of the seats in the House come January.

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