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Historic moment: Women are majority of Democratic candidates for House

Pressley News
Ayanna Pressley edged out a man who had held onto a Democratic House seat for 10 terms. (Elliot Haney)

For the first time in history, white men constitute a minority of people running as Democrats for seats in the House of Representatives, according to an analysis published Tuesday by Politico. More women and people of color may be elected to serve the House than ever before and, in doing so, shift the Democratic Party toward more progressive positions on criminal justice reform, access to health care, and other issues. 

“These grassroots candidates came out of non-political, non-traditional networks, meaning that they’re running very different kinds of campaigns than we’ve ever seen,” Democratic consultant Martha McKenna told Politico. “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.”

A stunning 180 women were elected during primary season to run on the Democratic House ticket, which was significantly higher than the previous record of 120. Meanwhile, at least 133 people of color will be on the ballot this November as Democratic candidates for the House. This shift in the gender and racial composition of Democratic candidates for the House has been especially stark in districts where there was no obvious or immediate candidate for office. 

In the 125 districts where the Democratic candidate is leaving office, or where the Republican in office is at risk of being pushed out, more than half the Democratic nominees (65) are women, and 30 are people of color, according to Politico.

Several women of color surprised the Democratic Party and the country by securing unexpected wins during primary season, including in seats that had been held by incumbent House leaders for decades. In June, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated Rep. Joseph Crowley, who had remained in New York’s 14th Congressional District seat for two decades and was considered a front-runner for the House leadership post once Nancy Pelosi stepped down. And earlier this month, 44-year-old Ayanna Pressley edged out Rep. Michael Capuano in the primary for Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District, thus securing another win over a white man who had held onto a Democratic House seat for 10 terms. 

Both Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley are women of color who ran on firmly progressive platforms, which included abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and establishing a single-payer health-care system. Both women have also positioned themselves as outsiders to the existing Democratic establishment—a party that has been reluctant to support non-white candidates even as the country has grown more diverse, and resisted adopting more left-wing positions on racial and economic issues, even as elements of the electorate demanded that.

Pressley is now set to become the first African-American woman from Massachusetts to serve in Congress. During her acceptance speech, she condemned Trump but stressed that others were to blame for the difficult realities faced by residents her district. 

“While our president is a racist, misogynistic, truly empathy-bankrupt man,” Pressley said in her September 4 victory speech, “the conditions which have made the 7th [Congressional District] one of most unequal in America was cemented through policies long before he ever descended the escalator at Trump Tower.”

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