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Why 2018 Is the New ‘Year of the Woman’

Number of incoming female freshmen lawmakers will exceed 1992 total

Hotel workers finish hanging a Jennifer Wexton campaign sign on stage for the Virginia Democrat’s election night party in Dulles, Va. on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Hotel workers finish hanging a Jennifer Wexton campaign sign on stage for the Virginia Democrat’s election night party in Dulles, Va. on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democratic women picked up more than two dozen House seats Tuesday, helping to power both the party’s takeover of the chamber and an election widely considered a watermark in the political representation of women.

They shattered the previous record of 24 women elected during the 1992 “Year of the Woman,” following the previous year’s confirmation fight over Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who faced sexual harassment allegations from Anita Hill.

“The next Congress will see the largest freshman class of women ever,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics.

Democratic women, energized by frustrations over Donald Trump’s presidency and the #MeToo movement, rewrote rulebooks on campaigns. They breastfed in commercials, won the recognition of babysitting as a legitimate campaign expense, and collected staggering amounts of money from female donors.

The incoming class of Democratic women also increased the diversity of the House.

It will include:

  • The first Muslim women in Congress: Ilhan Omar from Minnesota’s 5th District, and Rashida Tlaib, who won in Michigan’s 13th. Tlaib will also be the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress.
  • The first black women to represent Massachusetts and Connecticut in the House: Ayanna Pressley in Masschusetts’ 7th District and Jahana Hayes in Connecticut’s 5th.
  • The first Latinas to represent Texas: Democrat sSylvia Garcia from Texas’ 29th District and Veronica Escobar from Texas’ 16th.
  • Four women who will join Pennsylvania’s previously all-male delegation: Madeleine Dean from the 4th District, Mary Gay Scanlon from the 5th, Chrissy Houlahan from the 6th and Susan Wild from the 7th.
  • The first Native American women in Congress: Deb Haaland in New Mexico’s 1st District, and Sharice Davids in Kansas’ 3rd. Davids will also be the first LGBT person to represent Kansas in Washington.

Those wins came after aggressive efforts from Democratic groups to recruit, fund and train female candidates.

EMILY’S list, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, spent $110 million this cycle, according to a memo from the organization’s president Stephanie Schriock. That money allowed the group to “train, recruit and support more candidates than ever before,” she wrote.

Democratic women received $159 million from female donors this cycle, more than 2.5 times the amount Democratic women running for Congress raised from female donors in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The center also also pointed out that this year was the first time female candidates outraised men on both sides of the aisle.

Republican women, however, received only $19 million from female donors, the center found.

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