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Meet the History-Makers of the 116th Congress

In a banner year for candidate diversity, election night witnesses a few firsts

Ayanna Pressley defeated Rep. Michael E. Capuano in the Democratic primary in Massachusetts’ 7th District earlier this month. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Ayanna Pressley defeated Rep. Michael E. Capuano in the Democratic primary in Massachusetts’ 7th District earlier this month. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Updated Sunday, 3:18 p.m. | Diversity has been a hallmark of the 2018 midterm elections, which have seen a record number of women, minorities and first-time candidates running for office. 

Here are some of the history-makers from election night. 

Katie Hill, D-Calif.

Hill becomes the first openly bisexual candidate — and the first openly LGBT woman — elected to Congress from California with her win over GOP Rep. Steve Knight in the 25th District. The 31-year-old will also be the youngest member of the Golden State’s congressional delegation. 

Lori Trahan, D-Mass.

With her win in Massachusetts’ 3rd District, Trahan becomes the first Portuguese-American woman elected to Congress. A former chief of staff to Rep. Martin T. Meehan, who represented an earlier version of the seat for 14 years, Trahan won a spirited 10-way Democratic primary in September, tantamount to a general election victory in the safe blue district. 

Chris Pappas, D-N.H.

Pappas becomes the first openly gay lawmaker elected to Congress from New Hampshire after winning his 1st District seat. Democrats have long tried to recruit Pappas, an elected member of the state executive council, for higher office. He succeeds retiring Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

Jahana Hayes, D-Conn.

Hayes becomes the first African-American Democrat elected to Congress from Connecticut. The 2016 national teacher of the year succeeds fellow Democrat Elizabeth Esty in the 5th District and is expected to add a progressive voice to the House Democratic Caucus. 

Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, and Cindy Axne, D-Iowa

Finkenauer and Axne become the first women elected to the House from Iowa after both unseated Republican incumbents in Iowa’s 1st and 3rd districts, respectively. 

Angie Craig, D-Minn.

Craig becomes the first openly gay woman elected to Congress from Minnesota after unseating GOP Rep. Jason Lewis in the 2nd District. It was a rematch of their 2016 race, which Lewis won narrowly. 

Donna E. Shalala, D-Fla.

Shalala is a familiar face returning to Washington after the Clinton-era Health and Human Services secretary helped Democrats pick up the seat vacated by longtime GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Florida’s 27th District. At 77, Shalala will be the House’s oldest known freshman woman. (Illinois Democrat James B. Bowler was 78 when he won a special election in 1953.)

Deb Haaland, D-N.M.

Haaland shares the distinction of being the first Native American woman elected to Congress with Kansas’ Sharice Davids. An enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, Haaland easily wins the race for New Mexico’s 1st District to succeed fellow Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, who was elected governor.

Veronica Escobar, D-Texas

With her victory in Texas’ 16th District, Escobar, a former El Paso County judge, becomes the first Latina elected to represent the Lone Star State in Congress — along with Sylvia Garcia, who took a Houston-based seat Tuesday night. Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke vacated the 16th District seat for an unsuccessful Senate run. 

Sylvia R. Garcia, D-Texas

Garcia, a state senator, easily won Texas’ 29th District on Tuesday night, becoming the first Latina elected to Congress from the Lone Star State, an honor she shares with Escobar. Garcia ran for the seat in 1992, but lost in the Democratic primary that was eventually won by Gene Green in a runoff. Green’s retirement opened the door for her to run for the seat again — 26 years later — and she easily won the party primary in March. 

Joe Neguse, D-Colo.

By winning Colorado’s 2nd District, Neguse becomes the first Eritrean-American elected to Congress. The son of immigrants from the East African nation, Neguse replaces fellow Democrat Jared Polis, who was elected governor. The result is a happy midterm reversal for Neguse from four years ago, when he lost a race for Colorado secretary of state. 

Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

Blackburn easily keeps Tennessee’s Senate seat in GOP hands Tuesday night, becoming the Volunteer State’s first female senator. The eight-term congresswoman is also the first Republican woman to win statewide office in Tennessee. 

Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Tlaib becomes the first Muslim-American won elected to Congress — along with Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar — after she faced only token opposition in Michigan’s heavily Democratic 13th District. She will also be the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress. 

Sharice Davids, D-Kan.

Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, becomes one of the first Native American women elected to Congress after picking up Kansas’ 3rd District seat. It’s an honor she shares with New Mexico’s Haaland who also wins her race Tuesday night. Davids is also the first openly gay lawmaker that Kansans have sent to Congress. 

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla.

With her upset of two-term Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Florida’s 26th District, Mucarsel-Powell becomes the first Ecuadorian-American elected to Congress. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

At 29, the New York Democrat is now the youngest woman ever elected to Congress after she easily wins the Queens- and Bronx-based 14th District. She breaks the record held by fellow New Yorker and future House colleague Republican Elise Stefanik, who was 30 when she was first elected in 2014. Ocasio-Cortez shocked the political world when she upset longtime Rep. Joseph Crowley in a June Democratic primary. 

Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

After easily winning her Minneapolis-based 5th District, Omar becomes the first Somali-American elected to Congress. She will replace Democrat Keith Ellison, who vacated the seat for a successful run for state attorney general. Omar will also be one of the first Muslim-American women elected to Congress, along with Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib.

Ayanna S. Pressley, D-Mass.

Pressley is now the first African-American woman and Democrat to be elected to Congress from Massachusetts after she faced no Republican opposition in the 7th District. The Boston city councilor is also the first African-American elected to the House from the Bay State. Pressley unseated Rep. Michael E. Capuano in a Democratic primary in September

Watch: ‘Pretty Stoked to be Voting’— Voters Around the Beltway Share Their Election-Day Thoughts

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