Elsewhere on the gubernatorial front, Laura Kelly, a Democrat, beat out the controversial Republican politician Kris Kobach in the race for Kansas governor. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, followed Susana Martinez, a Republican, into the New Mexico governor’s mansion. And Gretchen Whitmer became Michigan’s governor, beating out the Republican Bill Schuette.
Perhaps the biggest gain for women was in the House of Representatives, where women broke well past the 107 seats they held in the 115th Congress. Women also helped change the balance of power in the chamber, especially in big states that will be important in elections ahead. There were the women of Virginia—Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria, and Jennifer Wexton—who all unseated Republican incumbents. There were the women of Pennsylvania—Mary Gay Scanlon, Susan Wild, and Chrissy Houlahan—who nabbed open conservative districts (and along with their new colleague, Madeleine Dean, helped break up Pennsylvania’s all-male congressional delegation). Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer, who is just 29 years old, both took down Republican incumbents in Iowa. Lizzie Fletcher did the same in Texas. And Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell picked up two seats for the Democrats in Florida. Democratic women also picked up Republican seats scattered across other states: Ann Kirkpatrick won Arizona-2, the southeastern district vacated by the Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally. Kendra Horn won in an Oklahoma City district that went for Trump by 13 points. And Angie Craig unseated a Republican incumbent in Minnesota.
By comparison, far fewer Republican women put their names on the ballot this year, and they had far fewer victories. In general, Republican women often get left out of narratives about women’s political participation, in part because “the Democrats have been much more likely to embrace a discussion about women’s inclusion and women’s political empowerment as a … feather in their cap,” said Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at Rutgers University–Camden and a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics. In general, Republicans are much more reluctant to emphasize gender—including the candidates themselves. Marsha Blackburn, who won over former Governor Phil Bredesen in Tennessee’s U.S. Senate race, famously preferred the title “congressman” over “congresswoman” when she served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
This year saw a few notable conservative-women wins: Blackburn in the Senate, Noem in the South Dakota governor’s mansions. Kay Ivey and Kim Reynolds, both recent Republican gubernatorial appointees, managed to keep their positions in Alabama and Iowa against male Democratic challengers. Carol Miller, a Republican woman, also beat out the Iraq War veteran Richard Ojeda in a race for Congress in West Virginia.