In 2018, record-breaking numbers of women ran for office and won, leading to the most diverse Congress in history. Of the 127 women serving in the 116th US Congress, 48, or 37.8%, are women of color, according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.
While 2018 became another “Year of the Woman,” the 2020 Congressional elections are shaping up to be just as groundbreaking for women of color. This year, at least 266 women of color are major-party candidates for Congress with 249 candidates for the U.S. House and 18 for the U.S. Senate.
Women who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander, Black, Latina, Middle Eastern or North African, Native American, and/or multiracial are all breaking records this year, according to CAWP’s analysis released on Aug. 5. This is an overview of what they found:
- At least 130 Black women are major-party congressional candidates–a new record.
- At least 75 Latinas are major-party congressional candidates: another new record.
- At least 41 Asian or Pacific Islander women are major-party candidates for the U.S. House which breaks another record. However, this is the first year since 2008 that no Asian or Pacific Islander women are major-party candidates for the Senate.
- At least 18 Native American women are major-party congressional candidates, yet another record high.
- At least 16 Middle Eastern or North African women are major-party congressional candidates for the U.S. House. CAWP does not have data on Middle Eastern or North African women from previous election cycles before 2018.
While these numbers only represent all the women filed for office, regardless whether they won their primary, these trends show an increasing interest in and support of women of color running for Congress.
“We wondered, would 2018 a be kind of a one-off?” said Debbie Walsh, director of the CAWP. “In fact what we have seen is the numbers are continuing to grow.”
The women of color who won their primaries bring new and diverse identities and experiences to the general election––many are immigrants, some are political newcomers with backgrounds as educators, activists, or veterans, and others are running for re-election. The majority are running as Democrats and many are in competitive districts.
Here’s a quick look at some of the Democratic women of color who have already won their primary and are making history this election cycle.
1. Jackie Gordon (NY-02)
A veteran, an educator, and a public servant, Jackie Gordon came to the U.S. from Jamaica, West Indies, when she was seven years old. She has spent her life serving her community in public schools and her country in the United States Army Reserve. In 2007, she became the first Black woman to sit on the Town Council in Babylon, NY.
She is running in New York’s 2nd Congressional District, a highly competitive open seat previously held by Republican Rep. Peter King who is retiring after 28 years in office.
Read more about Gordon’s policy platforms.
2. Joyce Elliott (AR-02)
Arkansas State Senator Joyce Elliott is running against Rep. French Hill in Arkansas’s 2nd Congressional District. Former teacher and chair of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus, Elliott has fought for marginalized communities in her area throughout her political career. Elliott received the endorsement of President Obama, EMILY’s List, and others.
If elected, she will be the first Black woman in Congress to represent Arkansas.
Read more about Elliott’s policy platforms.
3.Cori Bush (MO-01)
Cori Bush, a progressive activist and Black Lives Matter leader, made headlines after recently winning the Democratic primary for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District.
A single mother, former nurse, and pastor, Bush beat 10-term incumbent Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. in Missouri’s Democratic primary, and could be the first Black woman to represent the state of Missouri in Congress.
Read more about Bush’s policy platforms.
4. Candace Valenzuela (TX-24)
Candace Valenzuela is running to represent Texas’ 24th Congressional District and, if elected, could become the first Afro-Latina member of Congress. Democrats are hoping to flip the seat blue as the current Republican Rep. Kenny Marchant is not seeking for reelection.
Valenzuela has the backing of EMILY’s List, End Citizens United, the Congressional Hispanic, Black, and Asian American Pacific American Caucuses, as well as leaders like President Obama, the late Rep. John Lewis, and Sen. Kamala Harris.
Read more about Valenzuela’s policy platforms.
5. Gina Ortiz Jones (TX-23)
Gina Ortiz Jones is running in Texas’s 23rd Congressional District which is represented by Republican Rep. Will Hurd who will not be seeking reelection this year. Jones will face Tony Gonzales, who received President Trump’s endorsement in July.
Jones would be the first Filipina-American in Congress and the first out LGBTQ+ person elected to Congress from Texas. A veteran of the Air Force and Iraq War, Jones narrowly lost by 1,000 votes to Rep. Hurd in the 2018 election.
Read more about Jones’ policy platforms.
6. Hiral Tipirneni (AZ-06)
Source: Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Dr. Hiral Tipirneni is running in Arizona’s 6th District to try and unseat Rep. David Schweikert who is vying for his sixth term in November. Rep. Schweikert is currently being investigated by the House Ethics Committee over allegations of misusing official funds and receiving improper campaign contributions.
Tipirneni came to America from India with her family when she was just three years old. Tipirneni has spent more than 20 years as an emergency room physician and cancer research advocate, and hopes to use her years of service to help her community.
Read more about Tipirneni’s policy platforms.
8. Jeannine Lee Lake (IN-06)
Source: Jeannine Lee Lake/Facebook
Jeannine Lee Lake, a former journalist, is running for Congress to represent Indiana’s 6th Congressional District against U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s brother, Greg Pence.
Despite losing to Pence in 2018, the coronavirus and police violence create a different landscape for Lake’s chances, calling out Pence for voting against the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 and his efforts to limit health care protections amid a global pandemic.
Read more about Lake’s policy platforms.
More Women of Color Candidates
Many of the trailblazing women from 2018 are also running for re-election this November.
The group of four first-term Democratic congresswomen of color, known as the “Squad,” have been making headlines since their historic wins in 2018.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress. Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar was the first Somali-American legislator, and she and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib were the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Rep. Tlaib was also the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress. Finally, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley is the first Black congresswoman to represent her state.
All will likely return to Washington after winning their primaries to continue representing the new progressive voice of the Democratic party.
Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas, who became the country’s first Native American Congresswoman in 2018, will also be seeking reelection. Rep. Deb Haaland recently brought indigenous issues to the fore, delivering a powerful message at DNC where she stressed the importance of voting this November.
“We are the fastest growing segment of female voters in the country. It’s time to end the alienation of women of color from the political system and gain full participation in democratic processes on across federal, state, and local levels to address our unique interests,” said Preeta Sinha, Founder of One Green Planet.
Women as a whole are also taking on prominent Republican leaders in the Senate. Amy McGrath, a retired Marine pilot, is challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. Sara Gideon, the Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, will take on Sen. Susan Collins.
Up and down the ballot, women from all walks of life are running for office at an unprecedented level, an effort to make the government look like the country and communities it is meant to represent.
Read more about everything you need to know about voting this November.
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