Six people whose election wins made history

The 2020 election saw historic results at the top of the ticket, including the first-ever woman of color elected vice president, the second-ever Catholic elected president and the first defeat of an incumbent president in nearly three decades.

But the firsts also continued down the ticket.

Numerous candidates at the local, state and federal level made history with their wins. Here are six of them and the barriers they shattered:

Reps.-elect Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.)

Jones and Torres will together make history as the first openly gay Black men elected to Congress.

Jones announced his candidacy for New York’s 17th Congressional District, which includes Rockland County and parts of Westchester County, in 2019. He initially intended challenge Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), but she announced her retirement that October.

Jones went on to win an eight-way primary for the nomination in the heavily Democratic district after a slew of endorsements from influential progressives such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). He won the November election with 54 percent of the vote.

“Growing up poor, Black and gay, I never imagined someone like me could run for Congress, let alone win,” Jones said after his primary win.

Torres, currently a New York City councilman, will also become the nation’s first openly gay Afro-Latino member of Congress. Torres, a native of the East Bronx, announced in July 2019 that he would run to replace retiring Rep. José Serrano.

Although New York’s 15th District is one of the most heavily Democratic in the country, Torres had a closely watched primary against four other candidates, including Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister infamous for anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. In the July primary, Torres won with just over 29 percent of the vote.

He hailed his own victory and Jones’s on Sunday, welcoming a “Rainbow Wave” that will lead to the most LGBTQ members of Congress in history in 2021.

Rep.-elect Cori Bush (D-Mo.)

One of the biggest stories of the 2018 election was the victories of “the Squad.”

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) won election to the House, in some cases unseating veteran incumbents. Two years later, Cori Bush achieved the same thing in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, becoming the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress.

Bush, who was born and raised in St. Louis, participated in the 2014 protests in Ferguson after the police shooting of Michael Brown, working as an organizer and field nurse. In 2016, she lost the Democratic primary to challenge Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to then-Secretary of State Jason Kander.

In 2018, Bush mounted a primary challenge to Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), whose family has held the seat for more than five decades. Despite the endorsement of the progressive group Justice Democrats, Bush lost the primary to Clay by 20 points.

In a 2020 rematch, Bush again garnered endorsements from a number of influential progressive figures and organizations, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sunrise Movement and pioneering leftist academic and activist Angela Davis. Although she was widely considered an underdog again, Bush won the Aug. 4 Democratic primary with 49 percent of the vote and went on to win the general election with more than 80 percent of the votes.

“I’m a big believer in letting the work you do speak for itself. It’s not about what you say you’ll do, it’s not about name, title, or personal glory, it’s not about what people say about you — it’s about showing up and putting in the work to help others,” Bush told The Hill.

She cited the inscription on the base of a statue in Washington of the legendary Black educator Mary McCleod Bethune: “Let her works praise her.”

She also named another role model: “Here in St. Louis, Frankie Muse Freeman was not only a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, but dedicated her life to ending housing discrimination and segregation. She brought her own seat to the table when she started her own firm after being locked out of the legal industry, and continued to fight for justice as a lawyer into her 90’s. It’s their legacies that inspire me to keep putting in work to take us from just surviving St. Louis, to thriving in St. Louis.”

Bush has heavily emphasized her personal history as a formerly homeless person, a single mother and a survivor of the coronavirus.

“I’m proud to stand before you today knowing it was this person, with these experiences, that moved the voters of St. Louis to do something historic. St. Louis: my city, my home, my community,” she said in a speech on election night. “We have been surviving and gringing; just scraping by for so long, and now this is our moment to finally, finally start living. Let’s finally start living, let’s finally start growing, let’s finally start thriving.”

Rep.-elect Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii)

Kahele will succeed Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D) to become the first Indigenous Hawaiian to represent the state.

Kahele, born in South Kona, is a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Air National Guard and has also served as a commercial airline pilot for Hawaiian Airlines. He has served in the state’s Senate, representing its 1st Senate District, since 2016, succeeding his late father in the seat.

Kahele won a four-way race in the August Democratic primary and won the general election against Republican nominee Joseph Akana with 64 percent of the vote.

“Words cannot express my deep appreciation to everyone who has believed in our campaign, supported us, voted, & donated!” Kahele said in a tweet Wednesday. “Our challenging work begins now, and I’ll do everything I can to bring our state the resources we need to recover and build a resilient Hawai‘i.”

Pennsylvania State Rep.-elect Jessica Benham (D)

Benham, who won election in the 36th District of Pennsylvania, made history on two fronts: She is both the first openly queer woman elected to the state legislature and the first openly autistic person elected to any state legislature. (Two other state lawmakers, Reps. Briscoe Cain of Texas and Yuh-Line Niou of New York, have both disclosed they are autistic, but in both cases it was after they were elected).

“It’s a bit of a cliché among history-makers that we didn’t run for office to make history, we ran to make a difference, and yet it resonates with me. I ran for office to both protect public health and fight for an economic recovery that prioritizes everyday Pennsylvanians, not huge corporations and the elite,” Benham told The Hill. “And yet at the same time, I know that many bisexual people and many Autistic people see themselves reflected in me, and that my win gives them hope about the ways they, too, can make a difference in the world. And to those people, I say: I’m fighting for a world where you never have to hide who you are to be seen as capable of serving your community.”

Delaware State Sen.-elect Sarah McBride (D)

In an election where Delaware grabbed the spotlight as Biden’s home state, it also achieved another milestone with the election of McBride, the first transgender woman elected to its state legislature and to any state Senate.

McBride, a Wilmington native, had a long career working for state and federal governments as well as nonprofits before her election. At the time of her election, she worked as national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, but she had also worked in the Obama White House’s Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. She also worked on the 2008 campaign of former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D).

McBride has close ties to the Biden family, working for Biden’s late son Beau in his successful 2010 campaign for Delaware Attorney General. In 2015, then-Second Lady Jill Biden hailed her at a 2015 Human Rights Campaign event as well as her parents for their support of her.

“Their embrace never yielded, from the morning she came out to them, to the afternoon her father walked her down the aisle, to the evening she lost her husband,” Jill Biden said. “Isn’t that what parents are supposed to do? Parents celebrate, support and they comfort — because they see, and love, their child for who they truly are.”

“I hope tonight shows an LGBTQ kid that our democracy is big enough for them, too,” McBride said in a tweet on the night of her victory.

“It is my fervent hope that tonight a young person here in Delaware, or in North Carolina, or in Texas, or anywhere in this country, that they’re able to go to sleep this night with a powerful but simple message: that our democracy is big enough for them too, that their voices matter, and that change is always possible,” McBride said in remarks on election night.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Ayanna Pressley Bernie Sanders Elizabeth Warren Ilhan Omar Lacy Clay Nita Lowey Rashida Tlaib Roy Blunt Tulsi Gabbard

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