A flood of women, minorities and first-time candidates is poised to radically alter the composition of Congress next year after winning Democratic primaries in record numbers in 2018.
White men are in the minority in the House Democratic candidate pool, a POLITICO analysis shows. Democrats have nominated a whopping 180 female candidates in House primaries — shattering the party’s previous record of 120, according to Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics. Heading into the final primaries of 2018 this week, Democrats have also nominated at least 133 people of color and 158 first-time candidates to run for the House.
The numbers are even starker in the districts without Democratic incumbents. In the 125 districts where a Democratic incumbent is leaving office or a Republican seat is at risk of flipping, according to POLITICO’s race ratings, more than half the nominees (65) are women. An overlapping group of 30 Democratic primary winners are people of color, and 73 of them have never run for elected office before, tapping into voter disdain for politics as usual.
Their success in primaries could herald a major shift in Congress, which is majority-white, majority-male and still mostly made up of former state legislators who climbed the political ladder to Washington. And the candidates could also mark the beginning of a new era for the rebuilding Democratic Party, which is counting on new types of candidates to take back the House.
“These grass-roots candidates came out of non-political, non-traditional networks, meaning that they’re running very different kinds of campaigns than we’ve ever seen,” said Martha McKenna, a Democratic consultant who once led EMILY’s List, the pro-abortion rights group. “When a state legislator runs for Congress, that’s a formula we know. But when a nurse or a mom or a young veteran decides to run, their campaign looks and feels different, and in 2018, there’s a lot of power in that.”
“The way these new candidates will govern will also be different from what we’ve ever seen before,” McKenna added.
Republican women could also make history in a handful of House districts, though the GOP’s 52 female nominees are dwarfed by Democrats’ totals. In California, former state legislator Young Kim would be the first Korean-American woman to serve in Congress if she can hold a tough open seat for the GOP, while Lea Marquez Peterson, president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, would be the first Latina to represent Arizona in Congress.
But it was the Democrats’ new wave of candidates that pulled some of the most stunning upsets of the primary season — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, both women of color, knocked off a pair of 10-term white congressmen in the Northeast: Reps. Joe Crowley of New York and Mike Capuano of Massachusetts.
They have also come out of nowhere to galvanize liberal activists with their personal stories and make some longtime Republican districts competitive by force of personality.