These 2020 Candidates Made History With Their Election Wins

Suyin Haynes
·12 min read

With the Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris winning the 2020 U.S. elections, Harris made history by becoming the first Black woman and first person of Asian descent to be elected as vice-president.

A series of projected wins in other national and state legislative races across the country have also proved history-making—particularly by LGBTQ+ candidates, in what has been dubbed a “rainbow wave.”

2020 races also set up the election of the first Korean-American woman elected to Congress, the first state to elect only women of color as members of Congress and the youngest ever Republican elected to the House.

Here are some of the candidates who made history in Tuesday’s elections. This list will continue to be updated as races are called and certified.

Cori Bush

Cori Bush poses for a portrait to promote the film "Knock Down the House" during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Jan. 27, 2019.<span class="copyright">Taylor Jewell—AP</span>
Cori Bush poses for a portrait to promote the film "Knock Down the House" during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Jan. 27, 2019.Taylor Jewell—AP

Bush became the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress Tuesday night, after her win in the state’s 1st congressional district, which covers St. Louis and parts of St. Louis County. A community leader, Black Lives Matter activist, and nurse, Bush treated people as a medic during the Ferguson protests in 2014 after the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man. Backed by Bernie Sanders among others, Bush ran on a progressive platform, advocating for criminal justice reform, Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.

“Everything I do begins with those who have the least in our community, who have suffered the most, and who have the greatest potential, though, and the greatest to offer,” she told supporters after her win.

David Andahl

North Dakota businessman David Andahl was running as a Republican candidate for the state’s House when he died after a battle with COVID-19 last month at the age of 55. Andahl still won one of two seats available in his District with 35% of votes in a race with four candidates; the other seat went to fellow Republican Dave Nehring. Cases of coronavirus have been steadily climbing in North Dakota, and this week reached a peak in the seven day average of new daily cases.

Posthumous election victories are not unheard of; since 2000, at least six politicians have been voted into office after their deaths, but Andahl’s case related to COVID-19 is likely to be the first of its kind.

Sarah McBride

Sarah McBride addresses delegates on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.<span class="copyright">Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images</span>
Sarah McBride addresses delegates on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

McBride became the first openly trans state senator in U.S. history after winning her election in Delaware, three years after Danica Roem became the first openly trans person ever to win a state legislature seat in Virginia.

McBride, 30, was previously the press secretary of LGBTQ advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign and interned in 2012 in President Obama’s White House. She’s widely credited with championing legislation passed in Delaware in 2013 which ensured legal protections for transgender people against discrimination in the state, and was the first transgender American person to address a major party convention when she spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016.

On Tuesday evening, McBride tweeted that she hoped her win “shows an LGBTQ kid that our democracy is big enough for them, too.”

Ritchie Torres

Representing a district in the Bronx, N.Y., where he grew up, Ritchie Torres’ win means he will be the first openly LGBTQ Afro-Latinx member of Congress. 32-year-old Torres grew up in public housing, and has since campaigned and advocated for progressive goals including housing funding, Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. He has also been open about his struggles with mental health issues and substance abuse. “I feel like as a public servant, a public figure, I have an obligation to break the silence and the stigma and the shame that too often surrounds mental illness,” he told BuzzFeed News last month.

In 2013, he ran for the New York City Council and won, becoming the youngest elected official in New York City, and the first openly LGBT elected official from the Bronx.

Mondaire Jones

Congressman-elect Mondaire Jones poses for a portrait on June 30, 2020 in Sleepy Hollow, NY.<span class="copyright">Michael Noble Jr.—Washington Post/Getty Images</span>
Congressman-elect Mondaire Jones poses for a portrait on June 30, 2020 in Sleepy Hollow, NY.Michael Noble Jr.—Washington Post/Getty Images

It was Torres’ 2013 City Council win that helped inspire attorney Mondaire Jones to run for office as an openly gay, Black man in a suburban district north of New York City this year, according to the New York Times. When Jones takes his seat in January, he and Torres will become the first out, gay, Black men in Congress.

“Growing up, I never imagined someone like me could run for Congress, let alone get elected,” Jones wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

Marilyn Strickland

Marilyn Strickland won her election in Washington’s 10th Congressional District, and will be the first Korean American woman ever elected to Congress, as well as the first African American person to represent Washington at the federal level.

The 2020 elections are not the first time Strickland has made history; in 2010, she became the first African American to serve as mayor of Tacoma, Wash. During her eight-year tenure as mayor, she led economic, infrastructure and housing initiatives, and most recently served as the president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. She won her election against another Democrat, state Rep. Beth Doglio.

Madison Cawthorn

Political newcomer Madison Cawthorn will become the youngest Congressman since 1965 and the youngest Republican ever elected to the House after winning a race in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District. Cawthorn turned 25, the minimum age to serve in the House, in August.

Cawthorn’s campaign was mired in controversy—in October, his campaign created a website with racist language directed at a journalist who had written favorably about his Democratic opponent Moe Davis. The site’s language read that the journalist “quit his academia job in Boston to work for non-white males, like Cory Booker who aims to ruin white males.”

In this screenshot from a livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, North Carolina congressional nominee Madison Cawthorn gives a speech on Aug. 26, 2020.<span class="copyright">RNC—Getty Images</span>
In this screenshot from a livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, North Carolina congressional nominee Madison Cawthorn gives a speech on Aug. 26, 2020.RNC—Getty Images

Cawthorn was also accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women.

Having been partly paralyzed in a car crash when he was 18, Cawthorn is a wheelchair user. “I’m a proven fighter—overcoming life’s toughest challenges,” he wrote on his campaign website. “Now I’m ready to take on the liberals in Congress.”

Ana Irma Rivera Lassén

High profile lawyer and human rights activist Ana Irma Rivera Lassén won her election to the Puerto Rico Senate, making her the first Black, openly lesbian Puerto Rican to become an elected lawmaker. Rivera Lassén has a long and distinguished career in human rights law, with a focus on discrimination, gender-based violence, and in the 1980s, she sued a judge and won when she was refused entry into court in pants, as opposed to a dress or skirt. Rivera Lassén was also the first lesbian and Afro-Puerto Rican to become president of the Bar Association of Puerto Rico in 2012, and is the spokesperson of a new political party in Puerto Rico, called the Citizens’ Victory Movement.

Amid continued violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ population in Puerto Rico, Rivera Lassén was one of four openly gay candidates to win their races in Tuesday’s elections.

Deb Haaland, Teresa Leger Fernandez and Yvette Herrell

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., on the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 4, 2019.<span class="copyright">Tom Williams—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images</span>
Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., on the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 4, 2019.Tom Williams—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

New Mexico became the first state in U.S. history to elect only women of color as members of Congress. The state’s three House seats were won by incumbent Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland, Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez, and Republican Yvette Herrell.

Haaland is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe, and made history in 2018 by becoming one of the first Native American women to be elected to the House of Representatives. Herrell, also a Native American belonging to the Cherokee Nation, beat Democratic incumbent Xochitl Torres Small. Leger Fernandez, a Latina from northern New Mexico, also became the first woman to represent her district.

“Tonight the people of New Mexico have chosen hope over fear, love over hate, community over division,” Haaland shared on Twitter. “I am so honored that New Mexican’s have chosen me to serve in our nation’s 117th Congress.”

Alongside Haaland and Herrell, four more Native Americans were elected to Congress Tuesday; a record-breaking number. Democratic Representative and member of the Ho-Chunk nation Sharice Davids won re-election in Kansas, alongside Republican Representatives Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, and Markwayne Mullin, a member of the Cherokee nation, both won their reelections in Oklahoma. In Democratic candidate Kaiali’i Kahel, who is of Native Hawaiian ancestry, won his race in Hawaii to fill former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s seat.

Mauree Turner

Mauree Turner made history twice in Tuesday’s elections, becoming both Oklahoma’s first Muslim lawmaker and the first ever openly non-binary state legislator in U.S. history. 27-year-old Turner is an activist, community organizer and native Oklahoman, with a background in campaigning for criminal justice reform.

“It has never been a more important time for the next generation to see themselves in our government,” said Turner in a February press release announcing their run for office.

Four other Democratic lawmakers also made history Tuesday by becoming the first Muslim legislators in their respective states. Policy analyst Madinah Wilson-Anton became the first Muslim elected to the state legislature in Delaware, and in Colorado, Palestinian-American community activist Iman Jodeh won election to the state’s House of Representatives. Winning 80% of the vote in his district, Samba Baldeh became the first Muslim elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly, and Christopher Benjamin became the first Muslim-American ever elected to any statewide office in Florida, winning his election to represent the 107th District in the House of Representatives.

Stephanie Byers

In Kansas, Stephanie Byers also broke boundaries twice over: she became the first openly trans person of color ever elected to a state legislature in the U.S. and the first openly trans person elected to the Kansas state legislature. Byers will be representing the state’s 86th District, having campaigned on a platform focusing on education, Medicaid expansion and ending discrimination.

Byers is a member of the Chickasaw nation and taught in Wichita public schools for 29 years. She also served as the Communications Director for Wichita Pride.

“We’ve made history here,” Byers told the Wichita Eagle Tuesday. “We’ve done something in Kansas most people thought would never happen, and we did it with really no push-back, by just focusing on the issues.”

Jenifer Rajkumar and Zohran Mamdani

Jenifer Rajkumar attends an event on July 12, 2019 in Montauk, New York.<span class="copyright">Patrick McMullan—Getty Images</span>
Jenifer Rajkumar attends an event on July 12, 2019 in Montauk, New York.Patrick McMullan—Getty Images

Indian-American lawyer and immigration rights advocate Rajkumar, 38, will become one of the first two South Asians voted in to the lower house of the New York state legislature, after her win in District 38 in New York City. She previously served as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s director of immigration affairs and as special counsel for the New York State Department, and is also a professor at CUNY’s Lehman College.

According to her campaign website, Rajkumar’s parents immigrated from India “with just $300 and a suitcase”, settling in Queens, home to the diverse neighborhood she will represent.

 

Zohran Mamdani will join Rajkumar as the first South Asian members to be voted into the New York state assembly. A housing advocate and progressive candidate backed by the Democratic Socialists of America, he will represent the multiethnic neighborhood of Astoria in Queens. The son of famed Indian-American filmmaker Mira Nair, 29-year-old Mamdani faced no Republican opponent in the general election.

Taylor Small

Taylor Small became the first openly trans person elected to the Vermont state legislature. Small, 26, is the director of a health and wellness program at a Vermont organization that serves the state’s LGBTQ community, and is also part of a drag queen duo that has led Drag Queen Story Hours in libraries across the state. Small’s campaign focused on health care, and she has said she wants to address related inequities that affect marginalized groups like the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities in Vermont. “It should never be a choice as to whether someone accesses health care,” she told the Burlington Free Press after her win.

Shevrin Jones and Michele Rayner

In Florida, Democratic candidates Shevrin Jones and Michele Rayner both made history. Jones, a former chemistry teacher and education advocate, became the first openly LGBTQ member of the Florida state Senate, where he will represent District 35. A criminal defense and civil rights attorney, Rayner became the first Black, openly LGBTQ woman elected to the Florida state legislature in District 70.

On Twitter, Rayner quoted former congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who was elected in 1968: “I want history to remember me not just as the first Black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first Black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a Black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself.”

— With reporting by Jasmine Aguilera