Diversity Becomes Her: The 2018 Midterm Candidates Bring Change

The 2018 midterm elections have already set a record number of female candidates, a result of women being driven to run for office after the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and within the context of the #MeToo movement whose roots took hold a little less than a year ago. As voters move to the polls on November 6 haunted by the recent testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the narrow confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, more women stand to be elected in 2018 than in 1992’s “Year of the Woman,” where an unprecedented number of women were elected to Congress, buoyed by women energized to vote after witnessing Anita Hill’s testimony accusing Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. With a record-breaking 255 women contending for congressional seats as major party candidates, this year’s elections may see up to 40 new women entering the House -- nearly double the record set in 1992. This year’s midterm elections are not only historical in terms of the number of female candidates running, but also in terms of the diversity of the candidates, with the potential for Congress in 2019 to break diversity records. At a time when civil rights are threatened and racism pervades society under the Trump administration and as the #MeToo movement fosters an environment of supporting and empowering women, these trailblazing candidates of the midterm elections represent progress by providing an important voice for women and minorities at a particularly fraught period. Ultimately, through the diverse female candidates of the 2018 midterm elections, there is hope for those who have long been forced to stay silent to finally have a voice.

Already this year, certain history-making candidates are nearly guaranteed election after having won their primaries, now running unopposed in the midterms. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American woman from Michigan, is set to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. She will be filling the vacancy left by John Conyers, the longest-serving Democratic House representative, who, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. In a stunning upset victory, political superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, toppled Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent and chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and now stands to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Ayanna Pressley, after also beating 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano in another upset primary, will be the first African American woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts. Other noteworthy candidates include Sharice Davids, who, if elected, could become the first Native American woman elected to Congress as well as the the first LGBTQ representative for Kansas; Jahana Hayes, the recipient of the 2016 Teacher of the Year award who, if elected, will become the first black woman in Congress from Connecticut, and who is also running to fill the seat of Rep. Elizabeth Esty who decided not to seek re-election after it was revealed that she protected an abusive male staff member; and Lauren Underwood, who, at 31 years old, is the youngest black woman running for Congress, and, if she wins, will be the first African American as well as the first woman to represent her district. 

In terms of gubernatorial elections, a record number of female candidates from a major party was set this year, with twelve new women running for governor alongside four incumbents who are up for re-election, and with four out of eight of the Democratic candidates being women of color. As the highest executive office in the country after the presidency, the possibility of women of color filling the seat of governorship is important not only symbolically, but also in terms of the experiences they would bring to the table as members of marginalized parts of society, as well as their policies which would directly and specifically benefit women and minorities.

In Georgia, a state where all previous governors have been white men, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams has already made history by being the first African American woman to run for governor. With a law degree from Yale, a master’s in public policy from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as having served as the minority leader of the House of Representatives of the Georgia General Assembly between 2011 and 2017, Abrams’ platform includes criminal justice reform, protection of abortion rights, and overcoming voter suppression and the disenfranchisement of minorities. The potential election of Abrams would be particularly symbolic in the Republican-leaning deep south state whose capital is known as the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. 

The gubernatorial race in Texas has made history through Lupe Valdez, the first openly gay Latina candidate of a major party to run for governor of Texas. Valdez broke down barriers in 2004 when she was elected as sheriff of Dallas, becoming the country’s first openly gay Latina sheriff, and was subsequently re-elected three times before entering the race for governor. Open about her experiences overcoming discrimination as a lesbian and a woman of color, Valdez runs on a platform that seeks to protect immigrant and LGBTQ communities in a state where immigration and border security have been top concerns among voters and where discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is still legal.

In Vermont, Christine Hallquist is the country’s first openly transgender gubernatorial candidate of a major party. Formerly the CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, Hallquist was driven to run for office after the election of Donald Trump and the “resurgence of racism and white supremacy.” Hallquist’s platform plans to increase supplies of renewable energy and tackle climate change as well as civil rights issues.

The 2018 midterm elections provide an opportunity to confront the ills of society that have crawled out of the woodwork under the Trump administration. As sexual aggressors are still being put in positions of power, as white supremacy is becoming normalized, and as the small gains in LGBTQ rights are actively being rolled back, it is important now more than ever to elect candidates that will best protect and advance civil rights, justice, and equality. The number of diverse female candidates who stand to be elected in November means there will be a better chance to address the issues and concerns faced by women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community; there will be a better chance of breaking down barriers enforced and perpetuated by the Washington political elite; and there will be a better chance of setting the stage to create positive and lasting change in the country. Already, some of the midterm candidates are setting precedents by simply running for office, normalizing for the future what is considered to be novel in the present, laboriously and courageously paving the path to greater tolerance and acceptance, with liberty and justice for all.

Have your say: vote in the midterm elections on November 6.