Hillary Clinton Didn’t Make History, But These Female Senate Candidates Did
Hillary Clinton failed to make history Tuesday night when she lost her bid for the White House, but three female Democratic Senate candidates broke barriers of their own, and their victories mean the U.S. Senate will have its highest number of women of color on record.
Female candidates from Illinois, California, and Nevada prevailed on Tuesday, handing the Senate an entry for the history books. Representative Tammy Duckworth of Illinois will become the first Thai American in the chamber. California’s Kamala Harris, a Democrat born of Jamaican and Indian parents, will become the first black woman to serve in the upper chamber in nearly two decades. And Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada is set to be the U.S.’s first Latina senator.
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“Obviously, there’s this general disappointment when it comes to female leadership, but one of the bright spots is what we’re seeing for women of color,” Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, told Fortune. “People bring their life experiences to the making of public policy.” A more diverse group of women in the Senate will bring a broader perspective to policy decisions, she says.
The newly-elected members will join Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono, who became the first Asian American woman to gain a seat in the chamber in 2012, and will bring the total number of minority women in the Senate to four. Hirono’s ascent marked the second time a minority woman took a seat in the body, following Carol Moseley Braun’s tenure as an Illinois senator from 1993 to 1999.
In her race, Duckworth, a military veteran who lost her legs during the Iraq war in 2004 while co-piloting a Black Hawk helicopter, defeated Republican incumbent Senator Mark Kirk. A member of the House since 2013, she talked about struggling working-class families during her campaign, and referred to her own experience in her victory speech.
“I am here today because of public schools, food stamps, Pell Grants, and safety nets designed to help people who have been knocked down,” Duckworth said on election night. “Some view these as entitlements. I view them as investments—in our nation, in each other.”
Harris’ win in California is the latest in what’s been a string of historic achievements. She was the first female district attorney in San Francisco and the first woman to become the state’s attorney general in 2011. According to the Los Angeles Times, her elementary school class was the second one to institute busing in the move towards racial integration in the 1970s.
In Nevada, Cortez Masto was elected to the seat previously held by Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat who is retiring after 30 years in the Senate. Cortez Masto beat Republican Rep. Joe Heck in a tight race that’s being characterized as one of the most expensive in the state’s history.
Prior to election day, political pundits expected the number of women in the Senate to grow from 20 to 24 or more. The figure will rise to 21, though it’s unclear who the senator from New Hampshire will be. The state’s race, between Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte and Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan, was deemed too close to call Wednesday morning.
Forty women ran for the Senate this year—a record—but just 15 of them came out ahead in their primaries.