Updated at 5:25 p.m. ET
America’s 116th Congress is going to include some prominent firsts — and several governors’ races also made history in these midterms.
The U.S. has ushered in its first Native American and Muslim congresswomen, its first lesbian mom in Congress and the first openly gay man elected as a governor. South Dakota and Maine elected their first female governors, Tennessee and Arizona sent their first women to the Senate, and Massachusetts and Connecticut elected their first black women to the House.
As NPR has previously reported, record numbers of Native Americans, Muslim Americans and women, including many women of color, ran for office in 2018. A “rainbow wave” of LGBTQ candidates also sought office. And after the ballots were cast, all those groups notched notable firsts.
No, voters did not elect the first Native American governor (Paulette Jordan lost in Idaho) or the first openly transgender governor (Christine Hallquist lost in Vermont). And in Georgia, Stacey Abrams’ bid to be the country’s first black female governor is still up in the air — Secretary of State Brian Kemp has a slim lead, but Abrams has not conceded and is pushing for a runoff.
But here are some of the winning candidates who made history on Tuesday:
First openly gay man elected governor: Colorado Democrat Jared Polis
“We proved that we’re an inclusive state that values every contribution regardless of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” Polis said during his victory speech, according to Denver’s CBS4 TV station. “For the LGBTQ pioneers … who endured so much hardship and hurt to make it possible for so many of us, myself included, to live and to love openly and proudly, and to the people in this room, I want to say I am profoundly grateful for all the work we’ve done to overcome.”
New Jersey’s former Gov. Jim McGreevey came out as gay as he resigned. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who is bisexual, became the first openly LGBT governor elected when she won her office in 2016.
Polis’ partner, Marlon Reis, and two children, Caspian and Cora, will be moving into the governor’s mansion.
“Polis made millions in e-commerce and backs single-payer health care, set a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, supports greater distances between oil and gas drilling operations and homes and schools, and wants the state to fund preschool and full-day kindergarten,” writes Bente Birkeland of Colorado Public Radio.
Polis is also Colorado’s first Jewish governor.
First Native American congresswomen: Sharice Davids of Kansas and Debra Haaland of New Mexico, both Democrats.
“We have the opportunity to reset expectations about what people think when they think of Kansas,” Davids said in her victory speech, according to The Kansas City Star.
She is also the first openly gay congresswoman from Kansas. “She really feels like the voice for all the LGBT folks in the Midwest,” one LGBT activist told the Star.
Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, sailed to an easy win in New Mexico’s 1st District. She, too, is a lawyer, as well as a former tribal administrator and field organizer for Barack Obama.
“Somebody has to be the first,” she told NPR’s Leila Fadel in Albuquerque this summer. “Native women, I mean, we’ve been on the front lines for a long, long time. Think of all the Native women who have fought for treaty rights and fishing rights and all of those things.”
A number of men with Native American ancestry have served in the U.S. Congress since the 19th century. There are currently two Native Americans in Congress, both Republican men from Oklahoma: Markwayne Mullin, a enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, and Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation.
First Muslim congresswomen: Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, both Democrats
Omar and Tlaib both won handily in heavily Democratic districts that are majority white and overwhelmingly non-Muslim.
“I stand here before you tonight as your congresswoman-elect with many firsts behind my name,” Omar said in her victory speech. “The first woman of color to represent our state in Congress. The first woman to wear a hijab to represent Minnesota … The first refugee ever elected to Congress. And one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.”
She is the first Somali-American in Congress. She is taking over the seat of Democrat Keith Ellison, who became the first Muslim elected to Congress back in 2006.
“Omar is the youngest of seven children,” NPR’s Doualy Xaykaothao reported in 2016. “She and her family fled from the Somali civil war and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya. When she came to the United States in 1995, she spoke only Somali. As her English improved, she began translating for her grandfather at political events in the Twin Cities.”
Tlaib is a Detroit native and the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, making her the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress.
She secured the seat back in August, when she won the Democratic primary to replace long-serving Rep. John Conyers, who resigned after sexual harassment allegations. She faced no Republican candidate in the general election.
As NPR has previously reported, Tlaib’s Muslim and Palestinian identity drew national attention, but the local focus was on her strong reputation as a constituent-focused state lawmaker and her progressive politics. Tlaib is an environmental advocate who faced off against Koch Carbon in a fight over petroleum coke storage along the Detroit River.
She ran to the left of other Democratic candidates.
“I’m a different kind of public servant,” Tlaib told the Detroit Free Press after her victory. “I do activism work here at home. I grew up in a community that founded the labor rights movement. … Being [in Congress] is going to be important so that my residents feel like they have a seat at the table but also someone with a lot of courage to stand up and speak up.”
First Latina congresswomen from Texas: Democrats Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar
Until now, Texas has never sent a Latina to Congress. As NPR’s Domenico Montanaro noted earlier this year, “That is really quite something in a state where nearly 4 in 10 people are Latino.”
Escobar won in the 16th District, which includes El Paso. She is taking the seat vacated by Beto O’Rourke, who challenged Ted Cruz’s Senate seat.
Garcia won in the 29th District, succeeding longtime Democratic Rep. Gene Green for a district covering the eastern Houston area.
When the Texas Tribune asked her this spring about her widely anticipated win, Garcia said she wasn’t focusing on being one of the state’s first Latina representatives. ” I don’t really ever think about those things,” she said. “I never really wanted to be the first. I wanted to be the best.”
First lesbian mom in Congress: Minnesota Democrat Angie Craig
Craig, a former health care executive, won a tight race for Minnesota’s 2nd District, defeating incumbent Jason Lewis. The race was a rematch; Craig fell short of unseating Lewis back in 2016.
Craig and her wife, Cheryl Greene, have four sons; one is in high school and three are in college. Craig and her former partner had to fight a legal battle to adopt their son, Craig’s oldest child, because of opposition to same-sex adoption.
In her victory speech, Craig said her victory would not have been possible “without the love and support of my family.” A crowd of her supporters chanted “Cheryl! Cheryl!” as the couple embraced. She then thanked each of her sons one by one, boasting about their school performance and job offers along the way.
“I’m not running because I would be the first lesbian mom,” Craig told NPR earlier this fall. “But that’s pretty cool I would be.”
Craig is also the first openly gay woman from Minnesota to be elected to Congress.
Massachusetts’ first black member of the House: Democrat Ayanna Pressley
Pressley is the first black woman Massachusetts has ever sent to Congress and the state’s first black member of the House of Representatives.
Her primary win was a surprise — and a message to the Democratic establishment. Her opponent, a popular longtime incumbent, had the backing of the party while she mustered grass-roots support.
“The Democratic Party has referred to African-American women as the backbone of the party, but in recent years, some black organizers have expressed frustration that the party has not invested in recruiting black candidates,” NPR’s Asma Khalid reported this fall. “Pressley’s victory is a sign that organizers and activists are no longer willing to wait for the party’s blessing.”
Pressley spoke to NPR this fall about the challenges she faced in running for office as a black woman: “I was told everything from I shouldn’t be wearing my hair in twists, I shouldn’t wear hoops, I shouldn’t be as transparent about my personal hardships. I think that more of us need to feel empowered … to authentically represent our lived experience.”
Massachusetts’ first black member of Congress was Edward Brooke. When Brooke was elected in 1966, he was the first black senator elected by popular vote (state legislators sent two black men to the Senate during Reconstruction).
Tennessee’s first female senator: Republican Marsha Blackburn
Blackburn is a “loyal conservative foot soldier,” NPR’s Jessica Taylor wrote last year, further to the right than outgoing Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
In 2002, when she was elected to the House of Representatives, “she became the first woman elected to Congress in Tennessee who hadn’t followed her husband in the position,” Taylor reported. But unlike many Democratic women running for office this year, Blackburn did not emphasize her gender on the campaign trail.
After she won the primary, her history-making victory on Tuesday was widely expected. Tennessee hasn’t elected a Democratic U.S. senator since the 1990s.
Arizona’s first female senator: Democrat Kyrsten Sinema or Republican Martha McSally
As of 8:30 a.m. ET, Arizona’s Senate race was still too close to call, with McSally slightly leading in votes. But no matter who wins, Arizona will be sending a woman to the Senate for the first time. Both Sinema and McSally currently serve in the House of Representatives.
Sinema, who, if she wins, would also be the country’s first bisexual senator, ran as a centrist.
McSally, a former Air Force pilot who was the first U.S. female fighter pilot to fly in combat, had to run to the right to make it through the Republican primary.
Connecticut’s first black woman sent to Congress: Democrat Jahana Hayes
Hayes is a history teacher — the 2016 National Teacher of the Year — who ran on a progressive platform, supporting a single-payer health care system and immigration reform, as well as support for public education. She’s joining Connecticut’s all-Democrat delegation in the House of Representatives.
“I never ran on a platform that was about, you know, my race or my identity. But obviously I can’t take this skin off,” she told NPR this summer. “It’s a huge part of who I am. And I think what it represents is that everybody in this community has a place in Congress.”
She won office as part of a blue sweep of Connecticut’s House seats — again.
Connecticut has only sent one other African-American to Congress: conservative Republican Gary Franks, who served in the House of Representatives in the 1990s.
South Dakota’s first female governor: Republican Kristi Noem
Noem, a member of the House of Representatives, won an unexpectedly tight governor’s race against moderate Democrat Billie Sutton, maintaining Republican control of the governor’s seat.
In 2010, when Noem was first headed to Capitol Hill as a freshman congresswoman, NPR described her as a “rising star.”
Hoem “took over her South Dakota family farm operation after her father died in a farming accident,” Lee Strubinger of South Dakota Public Broadcasting writes. “That experience, she says, ultimately got her involved in politics with a focus on reforming government and the tax code. Noem was instrumental in repealing the estate tax during recent federal tax cuts.”
Maine’s first female governor: Democrat Janet Mills
Maine’s Republican governor, Paul LePage — known for controversial and offensive remarks — hit his term limit and couldn’t run for re-election. Instead Janet Mills, the state attorney general, faced off with auto body entrepreneur Republican Shawn Moody.
Mills’ campaign benefited from the support of progressive donors.