Democrats won nearly every major race on the ballot on Tuesday night, making Election Night 2017 a passable balm for progressives wounds on the anniversary of Donald Trump’s election. In the Virginia gubernatorial race, at-least-he’s-a-Democrat Ralph Northam beat out Ed Gillespie, who ran on a platform of Trump-style racist demagoguery. Chris Christie finally got his comeuppance for governing terribly and slobbering all over Trump’s shoes. An actual socialistbeat out the Republican majority whip for his seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.
But all across the map, it was women who made the most historic strides on Tuesday. And if those results prompt a progressive wave next year, Democrats will have women to thank.
Trump’s election inspired thousands of women to consider the possibility of running—because they were appalled enough to take matters into their own hands and because they realized they are at least as qualified as Trump to hold public office. Even though Tuesday was an off-year election, with only Virginia and New Jersey holding statewide races, it gave political parties a glimpse of the electoral impact they can expect from the women-led activism of the past year.
In Virginia, Danica Roem’s ousting of 11-term Republican incumbent Bob Marshall from his House of Delegates seat is perhaps the purest instance of poetic justice contemporary politics has ever seen. As the architect of legislative attempts to let hospitals turn LGBTQ people away, prohibit same-sex marriage, and keep transgender students out of their school bathrooms, Marshall proudly dubbed himself the state’s “chief homophobe.” Roem, a transgender woman, ran with her identity front and center, even as Marshall refused to debate her, repeatedly misgendered her in campaign materials, and accused her of performing “lewd” acts in bathrooms. She won by about 8 percentage points.
Four other first-time female candidates will join Roem in the Virginia House of Delegates next year. Former public defender Jennifer Carroll Foy, one of the first women to graduate from the Virginia Military Institute, described her candidacy like this: “The election of Trump, it shook something in me, and I knew that something had to change, something had to happen.” Three weeks after declaring her candidacy in January, she found out she was pregnant with twins.
Kathy Tran, whose refugee parents brought her to the U.S. from Vietnam when she was an infant, will become the first Asian American woman in the Virginia General Assembly. Emerge America, a Democratic candidate training group that coached Foy and Tran, reports that Tran “couldn’t stand by while Donald Trump and Virginia Republicans dismantled the ideals that brought her family here.” The Virginia House will also see its first Latinas in office in 2018: Democrats Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala, first-timers who beat Republican incumbents with a combined 24 years in office.
At age 23, Crystal Murillo defeated a 79-year-old incumbent for a city council seat in Aurora, Colorado, on Tuesday. She said in a recent documentary seriesthat Trump’s election was a “catalyst” for her nascent political career. “Our city council is made up entirely of older, white council members,” she said. “The community here isn’t reflected.” In New Jersey, Democrat Ashley Bennett successfully challenged John Carman, a Republican county freeholder, in her first political race. Bennett wasn’t just angered by Trump’s election or feeling ready to seize political power after attending the Women’s March. She traces her desire to run for office to a specific joke Carman made on Facebook, a meme asking whether the march would be over in time for the women to cook dinner. Women have always brought their grievances against sexist local politicians to the streets and the voting booths. Now, more than ever, they’re running to take them out of office themselves.
For a sampling of some of the other wins women secured, scroll through the EMILY’s List Twitter feed, which is so cluttered with female victories, it may make you forget for a beautiful moment just how many political offices are currently occupied by men. Several women mentioned are first-time candidates or firsts to win their office: Laura Curran became the first female executive of Nassau County on Tuesday. Charlotte, North Carolina elected its first black female mayor, Vi Lyles, with an 18-point margin of victory. Minneapolis City Council candidate Andrea Jenkins became the first openly trans woman of color elected to U.S. public office. Seattle will get its first openly lesbian mayorand its first female mayor since the 1920s. Voters in the biggest city in New Hampshire, Manchester, kicked out four-term Republican mayor Ted Gatsas in favor of Democrat Joyce Craig, who will be the city’s first female mayor. A Democrat hasn’t held the office in more than a decade.
At the Women’s Convention in Detroit last month, EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock announced that 20,000 women had announced candidacies for public office in the U.S., a historic victory in itself and a gigantic spike from previous years. (In Virginia alone, twice as many Democratic women filed as candidates in the 2017 primaries as did in 2015.) Only a small fraction had their elections on Tuesday night; many more are running for races held in 2018. Tuesday’s wins are a whisper of the major routing Democrats are hoping for next November. More importantly, they’re an encouraging sign for women still deciding whether or not to run next year. One of the most persistent barriers to women running for office is the perception that sexist attacks make campaigns tougher for women (they do) and that politicians have to fit a certain mold to win (they don’t). Seeing more women running and succeeding will convince some on the sidelines that they have nothing to lose but their day jobs, and everything—namely, a more representative legislature—to gain.