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What the Election of Kamala Harris Means to the Future of Women in Politics

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris will be the first woman and first woman of color to serve as vice president.

When the networks declared Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential race, it was a history making moment for both the president-elect and his running mate Kamala Harris, whose election broke multiple barriers. Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, explains the historic 2020 results. 

Senator Kamala Harris will be the first woman to serve as vice president of the United States, as well as the first woman of color, the first Black woman, and the first South Asian woman. What does this historic win mean for women in politics?

Kamala Harris now holds the distinction of being the highest-level elected woman, Black woman, and South Asian woman in the history of the country. Her election to the vice presidency is a major milestone in the story of women’s evolving role in American politics as well as in our nation’s history.  Black women have been the backbone of the Democratic Party. They are the demographic that most consistently delivers the votes to Democratic candidates, but historically have not been rewarded for the difference that they have made to election outcomes. Until now.

Black women have more than earned this seat at the most powerful table. Harris will bring her gender and race lens to the White House and will have the positional power to have an impact on policy in ways we have never seen before. By selecting Harris as his running mate, Joe Biden sent a strong message that the face of the future of the Democratic Party is female and a person of color.

A record number of women will also serve in Congress this year, as CAWP reported. Still, what does the gender gap look like?

The 2018 election was a year with record numbers of women running and winning up and down the ballot, but almost exclusively on the Democratic side. We wondered if it would be a one-off cycle or a new normal with women continuing to run in greater numbers. We watched this cycle as a record number of women across and within both parties were nominees for the U.S. House. While 2018 saw the largest U.S. House freshman class in history, of the 36 new women elected that year, only one was a Republican. This year there will be at least 111 new women members of the U.S. House and 24 will be Republicans. Among the other records set were the most women of color filing for U.S. House and Senate seats as well as a record 51 running in women vs. women Congressional races. 

What do the election results mean coming on the 100th anniversary of a women’s right to vote?

That it happens during the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which expanded some women's political participation while women like Kamala Harris remained excluded, is all the more symbolic. 

What does the election of Kamala Harris as vice president mean for the future of women and politics?

Her win puts to rest the question of the electability of women to high office - a question that haunted both the women and people of color who ran for the Democratic nomination this cycle. To women and girls of all walks of life, of every political persuasion, Harris's ascension to the vice presidency broadens the horizons of the possible.

 

For up-to-date elections results for women running in 2020, visit CAWP’s election tracker.