First Gen Z member elected as midterms could usher in a more diverse Congress


Joan E Greve in Washington; Sam Levin in Los Angeles and Miranda Bryant

Wed, 9 November 2022 at 2:14 pm

<img src="https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/L4Rkq.BgCEL_f_dzoE_4qg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3NjtjZj13ZWJw/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/528e30ab6f85e356581f32b1d8fe445f&quot; alt="<span>Photograph: Stephen M Dowell/AP
Photograph: Stephen M Dowell/AP

Voters have elected the first Gen Z member of Congress in the midterm elections, where a number of candidates are making history with their victories.

Maxwell Frost, a 25-year-old Democrat, defeated a Republican in his Florida congressional race, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday evening. The Afro-Cuban progressive has organized with the ACLU and March for Our Lives, the gun reform group, and called for universal healthcare on the campaign trail.

Frost, who will succeed Democrat Val Demings, has since received calls from the president, Joe Biden, and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

In his call with the president, Frost said the two bonded over their shared youth on entering politics. Biden, who will be 80 this month, had to wait until he was 30, the minimum age for senators, to be sworn in to the Senate after he was elected at the age of 29.

“He asked me if it was the same situation,” he told CNN on Wednesday. “I said: ‘No, Mr President, you have me beat on that. I’m already old enough to be sworn in on 3 January.’”

He added: “It was great to talk to him. He was elected at a very young age too, and so he understands that experience.”

Frost, who was approached by organizers in Orlando last year about running, said that at first his answer was no, but speaking to his biological mother changed his mind.

“I was at a crossroads. … Hearing that she had me at the most vulnerable point in her life really reaffirmed what I believe in and why I ran for Congress,” he said.

He plans to use his seat to call for gun violence legislation, including universal background checks, and said there needed to be “year-round organizing” by the Democrats to improve turnout.

Another House candidate, Republican Karoline Leavitt of New Hampshire, was vying to be a Gen Z representative and the youngest woman elected to Congress, but was defeated by Democrat Chris Pappas in a hotly contested race.

The departure of 46 members from the House of Representatives has created an opening for a new class of young and diverse candidates to seek federal office.

In Vermont, Democrat Becca Balint won her House race, making her the first woman and the first openly LGBTQ+ politician to represent the state in Congress. With Balint’s victory, all 50 US states will have sent at least one woman to Congress, as Vermont became the sole outlier on that metric in 2018.

Balint, who was endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders, ran on a progressive platform and touted her record of helping pass strong abortion protections as a state lawmaker.

Summer Lee will become the first Black woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress after her Republican opponent conceded. The pro-Israel group, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), had poured millions into opposing Lee.

Some House races were set to make history regardless of which party’s candidate prevailed. In New York’s third congressional district, Republican George Devolder-Santos became the first openly gay person to represent Long Island in the House, defeating Democrat Robert Zimmerman, who is also gay.

As Republicans look to take back the House, their playbook has relied upon nominating a diverse slate of candidates in battleground districts that will probably determine control of the lower chamber. The strategy builds upon the party’s momentum from 2020, when Republicans flipped 14 House districts where they nominated a woman or a person of color.

Democrat Becca Balint won her House race in Vermont, making her the first woman and first out LGBTQ+ politician to represent the state in Congress.
Democrat Becca Balint won her House race in Vermont, making her the first woman and first out LGBTQ+ politician to represent the state in Congress. Photograph: Becca Balint/Reuters

Overall, Republicans have nominated 67 candidates of color in House races, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Those candidates could allow the party to dramatically expand its ranks of members of color, given that only 19 non-white Republicans serve in the House now. With Republicans heavily favored to take back the House, many of those candidates of color could join the new session of Congress in January.

Latina Republicans have performed particularly well in primary races, with several of them expected to win their general elections as well. The nominations of candidates such as Anna Paulina Luna in Florida’s 13th congressional district and Yesli Vega in Virginia’s seventh district, which is another toss-up race, led Vox to declare 2022 to be “the year of the Latina Republican”.

Luna won the seat, which was previously held by a Democrat; Vega lost her bid to oust an incumbent Democrat in a closely watched race.

“Republicans have an all-star class of candidates who represent the diversity of our country,” Tom Emmer, chair of the NRCC, said late last month. “These candidates are going to win on election day and they will deliver for the American people.”

Republicans’ strategy of nominating people of color in some key House races comes even as members of the party continue to make headlines for their racist comments on the campaign trail. For example, Republican senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama was widely denounced last month after he suggested Democrats support reparations for the descendants of enslaved people because “they think the people that do the crime are owed that”.

And while Republicans boast about the diversity of this year’s class of candidates, Democrats’ House caucus remains much more racially diverse. Fifty-eight Black Democrats serve in the House currently, compared with two incumbent Black Republicans. Similarly, House Republicans hope to double their number of Latino members, which now stands at seven, but 33 Latino Democrats currently serve in the lower chamber.

In the Senate, Republican Katie Britt became the first woman elected to represent Alabama. California Democrat Alex Padilla also became the first Latino elected to the Senate from the state, which is 40% Latino; the governor had appointed him to the position to fill the seat vacated by Kamala Harris.

Markwayne Mullin, a Republican, won his race in Oklahoma, making him the first Native American elected to the Senate in nearly 20 years. Oklahoma Democrat Madison Horn was running in a separate Senate race in the state, and would have been the first Native American woman to serve in Senate, but she failed to defeat the incumbent Republican.

Beyond Congress, several gubernatorial candidates made history on Tuesday. In Maryland, Democrat Wes Moore became the first Black American elected governor, and in Massachusetts, Maura Healey became the first woman and first lesbian to be elected governor, with a victory that comes after eight years of a Republican running the office.

Tina Kotek in Oregon would also be a lesbian governor if she wins her racebut the Democrat was locked in a tight battle with her Republican opponent early on Wednesday morning. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former White House press secretary under Donald Trump, became the first woman to win the Arkansas governorship, and Democrat Kathy Hochul became the first woman elected governor of New York, continuing in the position she inherited after Andrew Cuomo resigned.

Stacey Abrams had hoped to make her mark as the first Black woman to serve as Georgia’s governor, but late on Tuesday night conceded to the incumbent Republican Brian Kemp.

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