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Midterms Were Billed 'The Year Of Women' And Indeed They Were


This year was called the year of the woman, and it seems like maybe it was. Next year's session of Congress is shaping up to have more than 100 women. One of them will be Democrat Donna Shalala of Florida.


DONNA SHALALA: This is the year of the woman, and the fact that...


SHALALA: ...The fact that women were willing to put their - themselves on the line to support - and whether they've been Republicans or Democrats.

KING: NPR's Scott Detrow is with me now in studio. Good morning, Scott.


KING: All right. Let's put that number, 100, into some context. How big a deal is this?

DETROW: It's a pretty big deal. This is - we're waiting on some final seats, but this is probably going to be 15 to 20 seats more than the previous record of women serving in Congress. It is worth pointing out that even though this is a very notable record, it's still nowhere close to a 50-50 breakdown in the House and Senate. But this is still a major improvement, and not only were a ton of women winning races, but they also played a key role in Democrats retaking control of the House of Representatives. Donna Shalala - one of two women to win seats in the Miami area that were important pickups. Also, Democrats flipped three seats in Pennsylvania last night. All three of them were women. Pennsylvania did not have any women representing it in Congress. Now they're going to have four in the next Congress.

KING: Wow.

DETROW: That's a major shift.

KING: That's really something. There were also some really interesting firsts among the women who won, weren't there?

DETROW: There were. Yes. Two women - or two Muslim women are going to Congress. Those are both firsts - Democrat Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar. There are - two women are also very narrowly going to be the youngest women elected to Congress. So you have 29-year-old Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York. She's only a little bit younger than Iowa Democrat Abby Finkenauer - both 29 years old, both won congressional seats.

KING: Also, the first black woman from Massachusetts, Democrat Ayanna Pressley - big, big win there.

DETROW: Big win, yeah. She got a ton of attention when she won an upset primary earlier this year. She was heavily expected to win last night. That doesn't make the accomplishment any less historic.

KING: Are these women split between the two parties? Do they lean toward - more toward one party?

DETROW: They are overwhelmingly Democrat, though several women on the Republican side did win some high-profile races. Marsha Blackburn will be Tennessee's first woman to serve as a senator. The Senate race in Arizona is still too close to call, but either Kyrsten Sinema or Martha McSally would be replacing Jeff Flake, who's retiring. It is worth pointing out that several women did lose high-profile races last night, including Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp.

KING: And there will likely be a female speaker of the House for just the second time in U.S. history, a name that is very familiar. She was also the first.

DETROW: Yes. Nancy Pelosi is poised to become the first speaker since Sam Rayburn to retake the speakership after a stint in the minority. A big theme all year was whether or not Pelosi was in danger of being challenged by a Democrat. Looks like Pelosi is not going to have a serious challenge. She's poised to be speaker again.

KING: NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.