Voters Tuesday elected a record number of women to Congress, thanks largely to gains on the Democratic side of the aisle.
In the Senate, where every incumbent Democrat won re-election, there will be a record 20 women Senators come January — a net gain of three. Women will also set a new record in the House of Representatives with 78 women elected — a number that could rise as a final handful of races are called.
In addition to the 12 Democratic women already in the Senate, Democrats will welcome newcomers Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota and Mazie Hirono from Hawaii. While two Republican women retired — Texas’s Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Maine’s Sen. Olympia Snowe — Republican Deb Fischer won in Nebraska.
New Hampshire also set a record by electing an all-female congressional delegation as well as a female governor, former state Sen. Maggie Hassan. In the Granite State, where President Obama carried women by 16 points, two Democrats, Ann McLane Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter, unseated male House incumbents and to join Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Kelly Ayotte (R) in Congress.
The gains, of course, could have been even higher if not for a few losses. Democrat Shelley Berkley lost an uphill challenge to incumbent Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada. In Utah, Republicans had hoped Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love would become the first black, Republican woman elected to Congress. Love fell short in her challenge to incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson. In addition, both parties lost a few female incumbents in the House.
These historic wins come after two years of fighting over women’s health issues in Congress, including attempts to role back funding for Planned Parenthood and family planning, and attempts to restrict women’s access to abortion on the state level. Democrats and women’s rights activists dubbed this the “war on women” and women’s health issues became a major, national issue the 2012 cycle.
While the economy played a central role in this year’s elections, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said that Republicans’ emphasis on defunding women’s health programs played a role in Democratic women’s successes Tuesday. Women saw Republicans in the House make decisions about their health care, Murray explained during an appearance on MSNBC Wednesday. The House GOP put Planned Parenthood on the table and “made it a budget decision,” Murray said. “That is an issue that the Republican Party has to look at.”
Seizing the opportunity to appeal to women, Democrats made women’s health care and reproductive rights central issues of the cycle. At the Democratic convention, almost all the Democratic women in the Senate where honored on stage at the same time and women’s health issues were a recurring theme throughout.
On Tuesday, President Obama beat Mitt Romney among women by 11 points while losing men to Romney by 7 points. Exit polls showed women made up 54 percent of the electorate.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.