The Rainbow Wave: LGBT Candidates Celebrate Election Night

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As the first returns in Minnesota’s Second Congressional District began to emerge Tuesday night, it looked as if lesbian businesswoman Angie Craig would lose –a second time— to a former talk show host who once compared LGBT people to criminals.

Democrat Craig was trailing Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis three hours after polls had closed. But before midnight, a “blue wave” began breaking in the state, and Craig’s campaign delivered, not only its own victory but, an important win for the LGBT community and a critical threshold that ensured Democrats would take back control of the U.S. House.

Overall Tuesday night, openly LGBT candidates picked up three new seats in the U.S. House: Craig in Minnesota, Chris Pappas in New Hampshire, and Sharice Davids in Kansas. All three were the first openly LGBT candidates to win election to Congress from their states.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis won his historic bid to become governor of Colorado and the first openly gay man to be elected governor of any state.

Voters also welcomed three new lesbian mayors: Teri Johnston in Key West, Besty Driver in Flemington, N.J., and Julia Fahl in Lambertville, N.J. The vast majority of more than 100 openly LGBT candidates for state legislative offices won.

And, in Massachusetts, voters soundly voted “Yes” to retain a state law that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations –the first statewide vote on such protections.

There were not “blue waves” in every state Nov. 6 and, so, there were some disappointing losses for the LGBT community and the Democratic Party. Transgender Democrat Christine Hallquist fell short in her bid to unseat Vermont’s Republican incumbent Governor Phil Scott. And lesbian Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones fell just 689 votes short of defeating a Republican member of the U.S. House from Texas.

But there were also some historic races with no winner yet declared as of Wednesday morning: U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s bid for a U.S. Senate seat from Arizona was still in limbo. With 99 percent of precincts tallied, Sinema had 48.46 percent of the vote to Republican Martha McSally’s 49.30 percent. No winner has yet been declared for the Michigan attorney general seat, though Michigan Secretary of State results Wednesday morning showed Republican John James had 49.57 percent of the vote to lesbian attorney Dana Nessel’s 45.54 percent. And bisexual Democratic candidate Katie Hill was hanging onto a razor-like lead over Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Knight in California’s 25th Congressional district.

According to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, 2018 marked the first time in U.S. history when there was an openly LGBT candidate running for office in every state. The Victory Fund endorsed 225 LGBT candidates on the ballot Tuesday, calling it an “unprecedented Rainbow Wave.”

Victory Fund Executive Director Annise Parker said Baldwin’s re-election to the U.S. Senate was among the community’s “highest priorities” for 2018.

“To see this champion of equality handily defeat her anti-LGBTQ opponent was phenomenal,” Parker said.

A new Congress 

Openly LGBT candidates were running for 23 seats in the U.S. House and four in the U.S. Senate. They won at least seven U.S. House seats and one U.S. Senate seat.

As expected, Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin breezed to re-election in Wisconsin. As noted, at deadline a winner has still not been declared in U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s race to win a U.S. Senate seat from Arizona. Ironically, the Green Party candidate in that race took 38,597 votes from former Green Party member Sinema. At deadline, Sinema was 15,908 votes behind McSally.

Green Party candidate Paula Overby in Minnesota and Independent candidate Brad Peacock in Vermont lost their bids for U.S. Senate seats.

The four incumbent LGBT U.S. representatives running for re-election all won: David Cicilline in Rhode Island (who is expected to seek a leadership position in the newly Democratic House), Sean Maloney in New York, Mark Pocan in Wisconsin, and Mark Takano in California. The newcomers, so far, will be Chris Pappas from New Hampshire, Sharice Davids from Kansas, and Angie Craig from Minnesota.

Going into the election, the U.S. House had six openly LGBT members and the U.S. Senate had one. As of Wednesday morning, that caucus is seven in the House and Baldwin in the Senate.

The new LGBT caucus members, all Democrats, now join a House that on Tuesday night switched majorities from Republican to Democratic. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin applauded the “millions of Americans who stood up and fought back” against the Trump administration, saying “we have succeeded in restoring a sane, pro-equality majority to the House and placing a check on this administration’s hateful agenda.”


There were four openly LGBT candidates for governor Tuesday night. Incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown of Oregon won re-election with a five-point margin. And U.S. Rep. Jared Polis won with a six-point lead over his Republican opponent.

Both losing LGBT candidates for governor earned strong support at the ballot box, despite coming up short. Christine Hallquist, a state energy activist who became the first transgender candidate to win a major party nomination for governor, won a robust 40.5 percent of the vote but was ultimately beaten by popular Republican incumbent Governor Phil Scott in Vermont. And Lupe Valdez, a former Dallas sheriff, won 42 percent of the vote against popular Republican incumbent Governor Greg Abbott in Texas.

Transgender referendum

Voters in Massachusetts did not vote as strongly to keep a transgender non-discrimination law as polls had predicted. The latest poll predicted 74 percent would vote to retain the two-year-old law. But, with 82 percent of the vote in, 68 percent voted “Yes” on Question 3, still ensuring the law would remain intact.

“By winning the first statewide popular vote on transgender rights, Massachusetts voters reaffirmed our Commonwealth as a place that fiercely defends our basic values of dignity and respect for everyone,” said ACLU Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose.

Question 3 in Massachusetts marked the first time voters statewide had been asked to vote on whether state non-discrimination laws should prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

State legislatures

There were at least 101 openly LGBT candidates for state legislative offices Tuesday: 85 state house or assembly seats and 16 for state senate seats, in a total of 26 states. Of the 85 running for state house seats, 62 won, 18 lost, and five were still undetermined at deadline. Among the many “firsts” recorded Tuesday, Megan Hunt became the first openly LGBT candidate elected to the Nebraska state legislature.

Of the 16 state senate candidates, 13 won, two lost, and one race was not yet determined.

The largest field of LGBT candidates ran in Texas (10), followed by Ohio (8), and Georgia and Washington (6 each).

Other key races

Massachusetts’ lesbian Attorney General Maura Healey coasted to re-election victory Tuesday night, winning 71 percent of the vote and fueling expectations that she will make a bid for governor in 2022. As a newcomer in 2012, she won with 62 percent of the vote.

The U.S. Pacific island of Gaum elected an openly gay Lieutenant Governor, running mate to its first woman Governor Lou Leon Guerrero.

Texas Libertarian candidate for lieutenant governor, Kerry Douglas McKennon, came in a distant third, with less than one percent of the vote.

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