© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Potential Election Day Firsts: Races To Watch

On Tuesday, Mia Love could become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. Here, she speaks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 28.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
On Tuesday, Mia Love could become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. Here, she speaks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 28.

Election Day is promising many firsts — and not just the obvious ones.

Yes, the country could get its first Mormon president if Republican Mitt Romney is elected. And of course, it could get its first two-term African-American commander in chief if President Obama is re-elected.

But Tuesday offers a smorgasbord of other potential "first" opportunities across the nation — from New Hampshire, which could end up with the nation's first all-female congressional delegation, to Arizona, which could elect its first Hispanic U.S. senator.

We compiled a "potential firsts" election-night cheat-sheet. We're not making any calls. We're just talking about what's possible:

Potential First All-Female Congressional Delegation

New Hampshire has two female U.S. senators, Republican Kelly Ayotte and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. This year, Democratic women are trying to unseat Republican men holding the state's two congressional seats.

Carol Shea-Porter is vying to win back the seat she lost to Republican Frank Guinta in 2010; and lawyer Ann McLane Kuster is trying to oust Charlie Bass, who served in Congress from 1995 to 2007, and recaptured his seat in 2010.

"We've never seen an all-female delegation to Congress," said Debbie Walsh, who heads Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics.

She notes that New Hampshire could also end up with a woman in its governor's office: Former state Sen. Maggie Hassan is locked in a close contest with Republican lawyer Ovide Lamontagne.

Potential Record Number Of Women In Senate And House

The number of women currently serving in the U.S. Senate is at a historic high of 17, but that could increase in January.

Two women senators are retiring — Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Olympia Snowe of Maine. But three Senate races this year feature women running against women, and one of them is to replace a retiring male senator.

In Hawaii, either Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono or Republican Linda Lingle, the state's former governor, will be chosen to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka.

Incumbent Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are each facing female Republican challengers, but both are expected to be easily re-elected.

They are among a record 18 women running for the Senate this year, a dozen Democrats and six Republicans.

A record 166 women, 118 of them Democrats and 48 Republicans, are also running for the U.S. House.

"We are looking at a potential record number of women in the Senate and the House," Walsh says, due, in part, to congressional redistricting based on 2010 Census numbers.

"This was a real year of opportunity to make inroads because of reapportionment, retirements, and because it's a presidential election year and there will be a lot of turnout," Walsh says. "This was a year much like 1992, the famous 'Year of the Woman,' when we had a big influx."

Potential First Black Female Republican Member Of The U.S. House

Republican Mia Love, 36, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, is on a path to make history Tuesday, if current polls are predictive. She looks to have a healthy lead over Democratic incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson. Pulled along by deep state support for Romney, Love would become just the 27th black Republican to serve in the U.S. House, and the first black Republican woman.

Currently, there are 44 black Democrats, and one black Republican, Alan West of Florida, serving in the House. He's in a tight race to hold his seat.

Love, a Mormon, was raised in New York City the daughter of Haitian immigrants. She was a featured speaker at this year's Republican National Convention, and had this to say: "Our story has been told for over 200 years with small steps and giant leaps. From a woman on a bus to a man with a dream, from the bravery of the greatest generation to the innovators and entrepreneurs of today, this is our story."

Potential First Openly Gay U.S. Senator

Tammy Baldwin, a seven-term Democratic congresswoman from Wisconsin, is in a dead-heat Senate race with former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Baldwin has raised more than $12.6 million for her campaign, which has received strong support from Democratic women's groups and gay advocacy organizations. Underscoring the high-profile nature of the campaign, former President Bill Clinton starred in a campaign ad for Baldwin.

Thompson's campaign has raised just over $7.3 million. Conservative groups have also invested heavily in the state with ads targeting Baldwin.

The Victory Fund, which seeks to get gay Americans elected to office, said that a record 180 openly LGBT candidates are running this year.

Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, said in a recent statement that "for the first time ever, LGBT Americans could have an authentic voice in the U.S. Senate and a record-high number of openly LGBT House members on both sides of the aisle."

Potential For Same-Sex Marriage To Be Legalized By Voters

Same-sex marriage has been legalized in six states and the District of Columbia, but always by legislative or court action.

That may change Election Day when voters in three states — Washington, Maryland and Maine — will decide whether to give gay Americans the right to marry.

Maine is holding a simple up-or-down vote on whether to grant the marriage right; Maryland and Washington voters will decide whether to override or uphold state laws that have legalized same-sex marriage.

Minnesotans will also vote on gay marriage, but they are deciding whether or not to join 30 other states in adopting a state constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.

Obama has personally endorsed the ballot measures in Maine, Washington and Maryland; and expressed opposition to efforts in Minnesota to pass a constitutional amendment. Romney opposes same-sex marriage.

Same-sex marriage advocates say they believe their best chance to make history will be in Maine, where gay marriage was rejected by voters in 2009, but where polls suggest it now will likely pass.

Potential For First Hispanic Senator From Arizona

Nearly 30 percent of Arizona's population is now Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2010 Census. It's the fourth highest percentage among the states, trailing only New Mexico, California and Texas.

On Tuesday, Democrat Richard Carmona is competing to become the state's first Hispanic U.S. senator. He's in a tight race with GOP Rep. Jeff Flake, who has been in Congress since 2001, for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Jon Kyl. Flake consistently led Carmona in polls, until recent weeks when the race has tightened.

Many Democrats view Arizona as the next big swing state, where Republican domination is declining as the white population ages.

Carmona, a New York City native of Puerto Rican descent, is a former registered Independent. A physician and Vietnam combat veteran, he also served as U.S. surgeon general during the George W. Bush administration.

Arizona has become ground zero for anti-illegal immigrant efforts, led by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. A recent analysis by the Latino Public Policy Center at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy found that Latinos have been energized by anti-immigrant measures and rhetoric. And that their influence, and sheer numbers, will continue to grow.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.
Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!