Nearly two dozen states have already held primary elections to establish each party’s nominees for the midterm elections later this year, and one trend is becoming clear: the Democratic Party is nominating more queer candidates than ever before. With every single seat in the House of Representatives, 35 Senate seats, 36 Governorships, and 87 state legislative chambers up for grabs, whoever is elected this November could shape America for decades to come, and queer politicians are now certain to be a part of it.
If Democrats take control of the House, President Trump’s legislative agenda will be stalled and he could face impeachment. If Democrats take the Senate, Trump’s conservative judicial nominees will be blocked from confirmation and his agenda stalled even further. Whichever party controls each state’s legislatures will get to draw new congressional districts in 2020, which could either re-enfranchise millions of Democratic voters or turn the House into a permanent Republican stronghold. The stakes could not be higher.
Here is a state-by-state rundown highlighting some of the queer candidates running in 2018, all of whom are Democrats.
Although Arizona’s primaries are not until August 28, there is a clear frontrunner in the Democratic primary for the Republican-held Senate seat. Representative Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09) is already the first ever openly bisexual member of Congress, and now she wants to become the first openly bisexual member of the Senate. The seat is currently occupied by retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake, and is viewed as a critical seat for Democrats to win if they want to win a majority in the Senate. Most analysts categorize the race as a toss-up, but recent polling shows Sinema slightly leading against every potential Republican opponent. Arizona has been a Republican state for many years, though Trump only won it by less than four percentage points in 2016.
Tippi McCullough (HD-33) is on track to become the only openly queer person in the Arkansas state legislature this November. Without a single Republican in the race, she is running virtually unopposed. Additionally, McCullough is considered a very effective candidate because of her compelling backstory: she got her start in activism after being fired from her teaching job for marrying her partner five years ago.
Katie Hill (CA-25) is running to replace Republican Representative Steve Knight in a swing district in northern Los Angeles County. At age 29, Hill would be one of the youngest sitting members of Congress as well as the first openly queer woman representing California in the House. This district is one of seven in California that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but is currently represented by a Republican. This seat is a must-win if Democrats want to take a majority in the House.
Representative Mark Takano (CA-41) is the only openly queer man of color currently serving in Congress and is running for re-election this year. Takano represents a solidly Democratic district near Riverside and has used his platform and his family’s history of internment during World War 2 to speak out against the Trump administration’s immigration policy. He is expected to cruise to victory in November.
Mayor Robert Garcia is already the first openly gay mayor of the city of Long Beach. He received so many votes in the primary that he was elected to his second term without needing a November runoff. Born in Peru, Garcia immigrated to the US with his family at age five, making him the first Latinx mayor of Long Beach as well as the youngest. Additionally, Garcia is notable for having founded the popular news site Long Beach Post before entering mayoral politics.
James D. Ford (SD-29), if elected, will become the first openly queer member of the Indiana state Senate. Ford has already tried to win the seat once, but lost by about nine percentage points. However, this was in 2014, which had a very Republican-leaning political environment. Because of his previous campaign, he will likely possess strong name recognition this time around, and given the current Democratic-leaning political environment, he has a good chance at victory. If Ford can run a highly effective campaign and turnout the Democratic base, he will win and make history.
Rick Neal (OH-15) is running to become the first openly gay member of Congress from Ohio. This race is particularly interesting to politically-inclined observers because Neal is challenging the Chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC), Representative Steve Stivers, who is in charge of ensuring that Republican candidates get elected to the House of Representatives. This district, which takes up much of the Columbus suburbs, is a reliably Republican stronghold, but analysts are observing what may be a much closer race than previously thought. While the odds are slim, Neal certainly has a chance to pull off a win and make history later this year.
State Representative Nickie Antonio (SD-23) has already made history by becoming the first openly queer candidate elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. After serving four full terms, Antonio is now on track to become the first openly queer person elected to the Ohio state Senate in a district that is heavily and reliably Democratic. It is almost certain that she will cruise to victory in November and make history again.
Governor Kate Brown (D-OR) has already made history as the first openly bisexual Governor in American history, and is now running for her second term. She will face off against Republican nominee Knute Buehler. However, she is expected to cruise to victory in this historically Democratic and fiercely anti-Trump state. She is leading by double digits in early polling.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner (OR-02) is running to take on Representative Greg Walden, the former Chairman of the NRCC. If elected, McLeod-Skinner would be the first openly queer person elected to Congress from Oregon. However, this district is heavily Republican; Walden has won by double digits in every election since he first won the seat in 1998. The odds of a McLeod-Skinner victory are slim to none, but Democrats are hopeful that at the very least, she will lose by a small margin, signifying immense Democratic enthusiasm that would ensure a Democratic majority in the House.
Kristen Seale (HD-168) is the first openly queer Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania history. If elected, she will be the first openly queer woman in the Pennsylvania state House. The Philadelphia-area district has been represented by Republicans since 1969, with the Republican candidate winning by more than double digits in every election in recent memory. This race will be an uphill battle for Seale, but she is viewed as a strong candidate with the potential to flip the seat if she runs an effective campaign and has the winds of a Democratic-leaning political environment at her back.
Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez is the first openly lesbian nominee for Governor of any major party. If elected, she will also be the first openly gay Governor in America and the first Latinx to serve as Governor of Texas. Valdez is facing off against current Republican Governor Greg Abbott this November in a state considered reliably Republican. However, there may be hope, as Trump only won the state by single digits in 2016, and his approval rating there is underwater. Furthermore, having the first potential Latinx Governor on the ballot could significantly boost Latinx voter turnout, which disproportionately benefits Democrats. While the odds are slim, it is entirely conceivable that Valdez could make history as the next Governor of Texas.
Gina Ortiz Jones (TX-23) would be the first openly gay woman of color as well as the first Filipina-American elected to Congress if she wins in November. The race is viewed as a toss-up, as this border district frequently swings between Republican and Democratic representatives depending on the political climate. This district could be considered a bellwether for the House as a whole; if Ortiz Jones wins, that represents a swing to the left that signifies a likelihood that Democrats will win control of the House. She will be campaigning against current Republican Representative Will Hurd, who was swept into office in the Republican wave of 2014. The district is majority Latinx, and reportedly has over 4,000 DACA recipients residing there; this could be advantageous to Ortiz Jones in a political environment where Republicans appear to be openly hostile to immigrant communities.
Eric Holguin (TX-27) could become the first openly gay Latinx man in Congress. While most analysts say this gulf coast district is solidly Republican, the situation is quite complex. The seat is currently vacant after Republican Representative Blake Farenthold resigned in the wake of serious sexual harassment allegations. The district was also recently ruled unconstitutional because Republicans redrew its boundaries in 2010 to intentionally exclude many Latinx communities in order to force out Democratic voters and make the seat solidly Republican. Before that, it had been represented by a Latinx Democrat, Solomon Ortiz, since its creation in 1982. Holguin is running against the well-funded Republican Michael Cloud in an uphill battle. His chances seem slim to none, but if he campaigns well and picks up the pace with fundraising, then he may be able to just eke out a win.
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is already the first openly gay member of the Senate. She is running for her second term, and is facing strong Republican opposition. The state’s Republican Governor Scott Walker is also up for re-election, meaning his supporters could very well outnumber hers at the polls, causing the Senate seat to flip to the Republicans. Additionally, Republicans are already far outspending her on the campaign. There is currently more money being spent against Baldwin than every other Democratic Senator combined. The odds are likely still in her favor, but keep in mind that Trump pulled off a slim but surprising victory in Wisconsin in 2016, so anything is possible.
While this list highlights some of the openly queer candidates running for office this year, it does not list all of them. Queer candidates are running for office at the federal, state, and local level at a rate never seen before, and more candidates will become known every week as more states hold primary elections. In many communities, queer people are about to see their identities represented in government for the first time while others are continuing the progress they have already been making. Whether in support of these candidates or not, this midterm election presents a grand opportunity for queer people in every state to make their voices heard at the ballot box and shape America for years to come.
The midterm election will be held on November 6, 2018. To check that your voter registration is up to date, or to register for the first time, you can visit www.iwillvote.com.