A record number of women were elected to the House on Tuesday, with at least 99 — mostly Democrats — expected to take the oath of office in January, up from the 84 currently serving.
And that number could grow after nearly two dozen outstanding races are called in the coming days.
The new class includes the first Muslim and Native American women ever elected to Congress, the first female African American representative from New England, and the first Latina representatives from Texas.
“I think we can have a transformative effect because a lot of us are used to breaking through barriers,” New Jersey Rep.-elect Mikie Sherrill told NBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday. “I think as women, that’s what we’ve been doing our entire career. And so to go somewhere and to have that challenge before us is not daunting. It’s sort of par for the course.”
The results follow a record-setting year with more than 250 female candidates running nationwide for state legislative races, governorships and national office. Many were first-time candidates who said they were inspired to run in reaction to both the loss of Hillary Clinton, the first major party female candidate for president, and to President Trump’s election. Trump is increasingly unpopular with women.
Female candidates also set a record in the Senate, where 24 women are expected to serve beginning in January, one more than the current 23.
Male Republican candidates defeated Democrats Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota.
But in Tennessee, Republican Marsha Blackburn was elected to replace male colleague Sen. Bob Corker, and regardless of the final result in Arizona — where the race is too close to call — a woman will be the next senator. It is the first time either state will be represented by a woman.
Democrats also elected a new female senator in Nevada, where Jacky Rosen beat incumbent GOP Sen. Dean Heller.
Even with the new higher numbers, overall female representation in Congress is still far below the 52% of the population women make up. But it’s steadily increased over the past five decades.
There is a wide disparity between the parties, said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Women are on track to make up nearly 40% of House Democrats in 2019, but less than 7% of House Republicans, she said.
"It’s been a frustration," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. "We need to do a better job of recruiting women candidates and getting them elected."
Walsh said Democrats have female leaders like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) who are dedicated to recruiting women, and the party has created groups like Emily’s List that focus on recruiting female candidates to run in winnable districts, and support them financially throughout their campaigns.
Republicans have historically not had female leaders and don’t have a comparable focus on recruiting women to win. Without those things it will be hard for the party to catch up, Walsh said.
With the record number of female winners comes several other firsts and milestones, including 41 women of color, as of most recent results, and the youngest woman ever elected to the House: 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. The incoming class will be younger and more diverse than ever before.
“It is incredible,” New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, head of House Democrats’ campaign arm said. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made strategic investments to boost the numbers, including $39 million into candidates of color, $63 million into female candidates, $25 million into veterans and $9 million into LGBT candidates, he said.
Pelosi said Wednesday that she expects female representatives to take the lead on more than just traditional so-called women issues, like child care or sexual harassment.
“I want women to take ownership of what would be traditionally not as highly visible roles for them, and that's one of the ways that they will change the Congress,’’ she said. “When the White House or the administration, whatever administration it is, has to report to leadership in the Congress at any level about the safety of our country, they'll be talking to the full diversity of our country, our women, people of color, LGBTQ. And I think that’s a very positive thing because people in the public will see people who share their values, their experience, their concerns making decisions about the safety and security of our country.”
Women also made inroads in several governor’s races, flipping them from Republican control. In Kansas, Democrat Laura Kelly defeated Republican Kris Kobach. In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer defeated Republican Bill Schuette.