Meet All of the Election Winners Who Are Breaking Barriers with Historic Wins

Diane J. Cho
·9 min read

Though the winner of the presidential election has not been called while ballots continue to be tallied in several states, a new wave of leaders has officially been elected into Congress and state Senates. 2020 has proven to be a challenging year, as the nation grapples with an ongoing global pandemic, a battered economy and a powerful racial reckoning, and these new elected officials represent change on all sides of the political spectrum.

Sarah McBride

COURTESY Sarah McBride CAMPAIGN

Delaware's Sarah McBride has become the first openly transgender state Senator. Once she is sworn in, she will be the nation's highest ranking transgender elected official. McBride beat out her Republican opponent, Steve Washington, by earning 84 percent of the votes in her district.

“Sarah’s overwhelming victory is a powerful testament to the growing influence of transgender leaders in our politics and gives hope to countless trans people looking toward a brighter future," Annise Parker, the president and chief executive of the L.G.B.T.Q. Victory Fund, said in a statement.

McBride's momentous win comes three years after Virginia Democratic Delegate Danica Roem unseated Republican Delegate Bob Marshall to become the nation’s first out trans lawmaker.

Cori Bush

Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Bush has become the first Black congresswoman from the state of Missouri. The former nurse and pastor had never planned to be in politics, but she turned to activism after police killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Determined to make a change, Bush decided to run for office and defeated longtime representative William Lacy Clay in Missouri's Democratic primary in August. To observers, Bush's victory signified that local voters were prepared to embrace progressive candidates in the vein of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley.

"I will be the first woman to represent Missouri’s First District in its 173 year history," she tweeted the night of her victory. "We’ve seen a 74% increase in women voters here since 2016. Representation matters. A system that works for everyone matters."

"To all the counted outs, the forgotten abouts, the marginalized, and the pushed asides. This is our moment," she added. "We came together to end a 52-year family dynasty. That's how we build the political revolution."

Ritchie Torres & Mondaire Jones

Noam Galai/Getty Images Ritchie Torres (left) and Mondaire Jones

Democrats Torres and Jones earned themselves a place in the history books as the first openly gay Black men elected to Congress on Tuesday night. Torres will represent New York’s 15th District, while Jones will be a representative for New York’s 17th District when they enter the House in January.

As a councilman, Torres has worked to improve mental health resources for the LGBTQ community, helped pass legislation that protects the city’s affordable housing stock, worked toward fixing New York’s opioid epidemic and has reformed the NYPD’s daily interactions with its community, according to his website. He has also become the first out Afro-Latino LGBTQ+ person elected to Congress.

"The Bronx is my home, it is what made me who I am, and it is what I will fight for in Congress," he tweeted the night of his big win. "I thank the voters of the South Bronx from the bottom of my heart for the trust they put in me to represent them."

Jones, meanwhile, is a Harvard-educated attorney and activist who previously served in the Obama administration in the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice. He is also the founder of the nonprofit Rising Leaders Inc., which teaches leadership skills to underserved middle school students in three cities.

Jones won the primary in June to replace Rep. Nita Lowey, who is retiring, and was expected to come out on top against Republican Maureen McArdle Schulman.

"I am humbled by the trust voters in Westchester and Rockland have placed in me, and grateful for the opportunity to serve the community that raised me — the community that just sent an openly gay, Black guy who grew up in Section 8 housing and on food stamps to Congress," Jones tweeted.

Mark Kelly

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Arizona's Kelly, an astronaut and retired Navy captain, beat out Sen. Martha McSally, flipping a vital seat for Democrats on Wednesday. The traditionally conservative state will send two Democrats to the Senate, Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, for the first time in nearly 70 years, according to The Associated Press.

Kelly ran in part on his national following as a gun safety advocate after his wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the head and nearly died in the 2011 Tucson mass shooting.

“The work starts now. And we desperately need Washington to work for Arizona,” Kelly told a small group of family and reporters gathered for his victory speech in Tucson. “My top priority is making sure we have a plan to slow the spread of this virus, and then getting Arizona the resources our state needs right now.”

Madison Cawthorn

Madison Cawthorn for Congress/Facebook

Madison Cawthorn has become the youngest sitting member of Congress (and the youngest to be elected in more than 50 years) after winning his House race in North Carolina. The 25-year-old Republican defeated his 62-year-old Democratic opponent, Moe Davis, to win the state’s 11th district seat (vacated by former Rep. Mark Meadows, currently serving as Trump's chief of staff).

Cawthorn, who has used a wheelchair since being paralyzed in a car crash when he was 18, won Tuesday’s race despite ongoing controversy about his divisive rhetoric, sexual assault allegations and racist language.

But his victory empowered him to continue his approach: Then newly-elected congressman's first social media statement after the AP called his win was “Cry more, lib."

Kaialiʻi Kahele

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The state Senator and lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Air National Guard was elected to represent Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District, making him only the second native Hawaiian to represent the state in Congress (the first, Daniel Kahikina Akaka, served from 1990 to 2013).

“I was raised in Milolii, the last fishing village in Hawaii — you cannot get any more grounded as a Native Hawaiian culturally, spiritually, in my opinion, than that,” Kahele said in an interview, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

New Mexico's First Delegation of Women of Color

MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty; Russell Contreras/AP/Shutterstock; Cedar Attanasio/AP/Shutterstock

New Mexico becomes the second state (after Hawaii in 1990) to send a delegation completely made up of women of color to Congress, according to The 19th. Democrat Deb Haaland, one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, is serving her second term; Republican Yvette Herrell, a member of the Cherokee nation, beat the incumbent to represent the state's 2nd district; and Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez will be the first woman to fill her district's seat since 1983.

Tarra Simmons

Simmons, an attorney in Bremerton, Washington, will be the first person who was convicted of a felony to serve in the state's legislature.

"From the Big House to the State House...We Do Recover!" she tweeted, as she officially became an elected representative for Washington state.

Simmons won against April Ferguson by earning 64.72 percent of the votes.

The former nurse served 20 months in prison after being arrested three times in 2011, following convictions on theft and drug crimes, according to the Kitsap Sun. She was released in 2013.

"Criminal justice is just a Band-Aid to a lot of other systems that aren’t working, prisons and education, mental health and substance abuse,” she said in her campaign announcement. “I think if we address some of the root causes and prevent incarceration to begin with, that will help our communities thrive.”

Mauree Turner

Turner beat out Republican Kelly Barlean in the race for the 88th district in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, making they the first Muslim person elected to the state's legislature. The political newcomer told HuffPost last month that they entered the race because they wanted to represent Oklahomans like they — people raised in "a single parent household because one parent was incarcerated" and "had to live off SNAP benefits."

“That was my upbringing, and it’s not a unique one,” Turner, who is Black and queer, told the outlet.

Kesha Ram

The Democrat made history as the first woman of color to be elected to the Vermont Senate on Nov. 3. Ram, the daughter of an Indian immigrant father and a Jewish mother, will represent a state that is more than 94 percent white.

"So many times in my life, I felt the impact of policies that didn't let people like me fall through the cracks, and it started to paint a picture for me of what I could do to help other people in politics,” Ram told NBC News, and noted that her campaign has been focused on racial justice, climate justice and support for criminal justice reform.