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Midterm elections: The new faces diversifying US politics, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Ilhan Omar

A record year for diversity in American politics

Harry Cockburn
Wednesday 07 November 2018 15:34 GMT
What do the midterms mean for Trump?

The results of the midterm elections will install a new wave of diverse, progressive, first-time candidates in congress.

Ahead of the election, white men represented 69 per cent of all governors and members of congress, but just a third of the United States’ population. This year, 58 per cent of candidates were white men.

As the results came in, the 2018 midterms became a night of firsts.

Women were running in record numbers as well as black and ethnic minorities and LGBT+ candidates who were in the running for House, Senate and governor seats, all helping to make it a record year for diversity.

Here are the newly elected congresspersons helping to diversify US politics and address the country’s historic imbalance.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Ocasio-Cortez was the shock winner in the Democratic primaries (AFP/Getty) (AFP/Getty Images)

At 29, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become the youngest women ever elected to congress. She will represent New York’s 14th congressional district. A year before successfully taking on 10-term Democrat incumbent Joe Crowley in the 2018 primaries, Ms Ocasio-Cortez was working in bar to help support her family.

“Our district is 70 per cent people of colour, and we have never had a person of colour represent us in American history,” she said ahead of the election.

Ayanna Pressley

Pressley defeated 10-term Republican Michael Capuano (AFP/Getty) (AFP/Getty Images)

Ayanna Pressley has become Massachusetts’ first black congresswoman. In the state primary the Democrat defeated 10-term Republican Michael Capuano in a significant political upset. She had already become the first black woman to be elected to Boston City Council in 2009.

After her electoral victory last night she asked her supporters: “Can a congresswoman wear her hair in braids? Rock a black leather jacket?”

Young Kim

Young Kim is the first Korean-American elected to congress (AP)

Republican candidate Young Kim has become the first Korean-American woman elected to congress, representing California’s 39th Congressional District. She is herself an immigrant from South Korea and is said to have diverging views from Donald Trump on issues including immigration and trade.

Deb Haaland

Native American Haaland called for the impeachment of Donald Trump (Photos Debra Haaland)

Already having become the first Native American woman to chair a state political party, Deb Haaland has now become the joint-first Native American woman to be elected to congress, alongside Sharice Davids (see below).

Ms Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, and ran a campaign calling for the impeachment of Donald Trump as well as calling for greater environmental action and universal healthcare.

Sharice Davids

Davids and Haaland, above, are the first Native American women elected to congress (AP)

Sharice Davids of Kansas won her seat to become the first Native American and gay woman elected to the House.

Ms Davids is an attorney and member of the Ho-Chunk nation. She is also a former MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter.

Rashida Tlaib

Democrat Rashida Tlaib outside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing (AP)

In 2009 Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim American woman to serve in the Michigan Legislature, and the second Muslim woman in history to be elected to any US state legislature. Her midterms election victory makes her the joint-first Muslim women elected to congress, along with Ilhan Omar (see below).

Following her historic election she said: “Being there [in congress] is going to be important so that my residents feel like they have a seat at the table but also someone with a lot of courage to stand up and speak up.”

Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar speaks at her midterm election night party in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Reuters)

Minnesotan politician Ilhan Omar has become the first Somali-American elected to congress. She is also the director of policy and initiatives at the Women Organizing Women Network. She was born in Mogadishu, the youngest of seven siblings. Her family fled Somalia when the civil war broke out in 1991, settling in the US in 1995. She became the very first Somali-American elected to office in the US when she was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016.

She said “the politics of fear” motivated her to enter the race, and her progressive campaign focused on raising wages, subsidising higher education and improving access to healthcare.

Jared Polis

Jared Polis won in Colorado; he is the first openly gay governor in the US (Reuters) (REUTERS)

Colorado has elected the US’s first openly gay governor. Democrat Jared Polis was also the US’s first openly gay man to be elected to the House of Representatives in 2008.

His gubernatorial campaign focused on free early-childhood education, and making Colorado into becoming a “100 per cent renewable energy state”.

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Lauren Underwood

Represent-elect for Illinois, Underwood was part of the Obama administration (AP)

Nurse and health policy expert Lauren Underwood has narrowly beaten Republican Randy Hultgren to win a seat representing Illinois’ 14th congressional district.

Ms Underwood began her political career working as a special assistant for the Obama administration in 2014. Two years later, Obama appointed her senior adviser at the US Department of Health and Human Services where she helped implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

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