As polls closed across the country Tuesday night, it appeared as though women would wind up holding a record high number of seats in the next Senate, based on projections of the 2012 elections.
By midnight eastern time, three female candidates had been predicted as winners of their contests, enough to offset the loss of two retiring female Senators. And the prospect remained of the new high reaching higher, as several more undecided races held the chance of producing a female winner as well.
In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren unseated incumbent Sen. Scott Brown (R), returning to Democratic control the seat long held by Ted Kennedy. Then in Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin was predicted to win her race, which would make her the first openly gay Senator in the nation should that prediction hold true.
In Hawaii, two women faced off for the state’s vacant seat, with Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono winning and becoming Hawaii’s first female Senator.
Those victories offset the retirements of Republican Senators Olympia Snowe in Maine, and Kay Bailey Hutchison in Texas.
Should the projected outcomes hold, that would give women 18 seats in the next Senate, one more than the current record of 17. And that’s before the outcome of two more races with strong female candidates are even called. By early morning Wednesday, it was still too close to call Nevada’s Senate race, where Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) has a good shot to win her campaign. Similarly, North Dakota’s race, in which Democratic candidate Heidi Heitkamp held a lead late into the night, could result in one more woman in the Senate.
In Missouri, Claire McCaskill came from behind to win reelection, largely thanks to an unforced mistake by opponent Rep. Todd Akin, who implied that some rapes were more “legitimate” than others.
In the House, women also stood to gain based on early returns. In Illinois, Tammy Duckworth was expected to knock off incumbent Tea Party favorite Rep. Joe Walsh (R.)
The gains for female politicians—and the rebukes of candidates who made shocking remarks about women and women’s issues—come after the two parties spent months battling over the so-called “war on women.” Democrats have long tried to convince voters that Republicans will roll back women’s rights, including their reproductive rights. And to be fair, Republicans rashly pursued a number of controversial values-based votes after reclaiming the House in 2010, such as a proposal that would have redefined rape.
Then during the campaign season, with prognosticators predicting that female voters would play a pivotal role in the election, several Republican candidates made widely unpopular remarks about women, rape and abortion, sparking a media firestorm and sending those candidates spiraling in the polls.
And of course there was Romney’s own infamous moment when, in the penultimate presidential debate, he referenced the “binders full of women” he used to staff his cabinet in Massachusetts, prompting yet another round of conservative anti-women memes.