Historic wins: Women, Gen Z and LGBTQ candidates celebrate series of firsts in midterms

Maxwell Frost, 25, became the youngest congressman in history while Democrat Maura Healey of Massachusetts goes down in the history books as the first openly lesbian governor in US history

Johanna Chisholm
Wednesday 09 November 2022 17:41 GMT
Kathy Hochul thanks ‘bold’ New Yorkers after winning re-election

Bitterly fought races across the country have put control for the House and Senate on a razor’s edge. Though, zooming in on the individual contests across the country, pundits and pollsters could easily agree on at least one thing Wednesday morning: 2022’s midterms were shaping up to be one for the record books.

Winning candidates clocked several historic firsts in races for governor’s mansions, Congress, and the Senate.

Final figures have yet to be calculated, but by Wednesday morning, results from Tuesday’s polls seemed to track that when the 118th Congress opens on 3 January 2023 it’ll likely be one of the most diverse classes that the US has ushered in.

In 2021, 124 lawmakers in the House and the Senate identified as Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander or Native American, according to a Pew Research Center. That means a quarter of voting members of the upper and lower chambers were racial or ethnic minorities.

While that shift represents a seismic shift from previous years (for instance, in 2001 to 2003, there were only 63 minority members in Congress), it still doesn’t provide an accurate representation of the US populace. Non-Hispanic White Americans accounted for 77 per cent of voting members in 2020, a significantly larger share than the total US population which sits at about 60 per cent.

Here, we provide a roundup of the 2022 midterm elections that have already made history with voters electing their first women, minority, LGBTQ and GenZ candidates in state and federal offices across the country.

House races

In a generational first, 25-year-old Maxwell Alejandro Frost became the first GenZ member of Congress after the Associated Press called the Florida Democrat’s race against Republican Calvin Wimbish late Tuesday night.

The Afro-Cuban progressive activist campaigned alongside non-profit organisations like March for Our Lives and the ACLU while prioritising gun reform and universal healthcare as central platform issues for Florida’s 10th congressional district.

Now the youngest lawmaker to be elected, Mr Frost was among a class of more youthful candidates running in both parties. Many of these candidates hoped to represent issues facing their generation and bring down the average age of the lower chamber, which sits around 58 with more than four out of every five lawmakers being a member of Gen X or a baby boomer.

“WE MADE HISTORY!!! Don’t count young people out,” tweeted the 25-year-old Tuesday night, adding that he planned to celebrate the win by catching The 1975’s concert in Washington DC on Thursday.

Coming from a similar background was Pennsylvania’s Democratic candidate for the 12th District, Summer Lee. The 34-year-old was projected to win the race over Republican Mike Doyle, CNN projected, making her the state’s first Black congresswoman.

The community activist is no stranger to breaking barriers, as four years ago when she ran for the state House, she upset a 20-year incumbent – Paul Costa – in the primary election.

“What we know is that when we are going to make history, there are always going to be barriers that come up against us,” said Ms Lee during her victory speech on Tuesday. “And I am so proud of the work that everyone in this movement has done.”

Democrat Becca Balint, running against Republican Liam Madden in Vermont’s at-large Congressional District race, took home two firsts with her projected win on Tuesday night: She became the first woman and the first LGBTQ person elected to Congress from the state.

With her win, the 54-year-old acknowledged that her historic first represented not only one for her state but was also an important glass-ceiling moment for the country. Her victory ends Vermont’s distinction as being the only state to have never sent a woman to Congress.

“Tonight, after 231 years, Vermonters are sending a woman and openly gay person to Congress for the first time,” wrote Ms Balint in an Instagram post.

While the result of New York’s 3rd Congressional District had yet to be called by the Associated Press, either candidate will represent a first for the district as both candidates – Democrat Robert Zimmerman and Republican George Devolder-Santos – are openly gay men.

Senate races

Diversity within the Senate increased during the 117th Congress, with eleven senators – up from nine – identifying as a racial or ethnic minority. That trend seemed to remain much the same for the class of 2022.

In Alabama, Republican Katie Britt, a former CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, became the first woman elected to the US Senate to represent Alabama. Though there had been two women before her who had represented the state, those were appointees rather than by the ballot.

A similar situation played out in California where Democratic Senator Alex Padilla of California, who was appointed to the role back in 2021 to fill the seat of Kamala Harris after she was promoted to vice-president, became the first Latino to be elected to represent the state in the Senate.

Republican Markwayne Mullin broke a nearly two-decade spell in Oklahoma on Tuesday night with his victory over Democratic challenger Kendra Horn as he became the first tribal citizen to win election to the US Senate in the state in that time.

Gubernatorial races

Democrat Maura Healey’s victory over Republican Geoff Diehl signalled multiple glass ceiling-smashing firsts as she became the first woman and first out gay person elected Massachusetts governor.

The Democrat’s win flipped an eight-year rule of Republican governors and also saw the 51-year-old, who currently serves as the state’s attorney general, become the first openly lesbian governor in US history.

Over in Arkansas, Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who gained notoriety in recent years when she worked as former President Donald Trump’s press secretary, became her state’s first female governor as she defeated Democrat Chris Jones.

Governor Kathy Hochul staved off defeat in what became a tight and closely watched race in New York against Republican Lee Zeldin. The win signalled a history making moment for the New York governor, as she became the state’s first female elected to the governor’s mansion. Gov Hochul assumed the office last year after ex-governor Andrew Cuomo resigned following a probe into his office that involved multiple accusations of sexual harassment against the Democrat.

Election 2022 New York Governor
Election 2022 New York Governor (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Democrat Wes Moore clinched a victory in Maryland’s gubernatorial race against Republican Dan Cox and was celebrated as becoming the east coast state’s first Black governor on Tuesday. The win for Democrats in Maryland flipped the governor’s office from Republican control and staved off a Trump-backed candidate who promoted election denying conspiracies about the 2020 election. With Mr Moore’s victory, he becomes the third Black governor elected to the office across the entire country.

Oregon’s gubernatorial election has become a tight race with results still too early to call in a three-way race between Democrat Tina Kotek, Republican Christine Drazan and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson. If Ms Kotek secures a win, she would become the state’s first lesbian governor.

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