It took until 2008 for female senators to have access to a Senate swimming pool, until 2013 for female senators to have a bathroom with more than two stalls close to the Senate floor, and until this year for a female senator to give birth to a child while serving in office.
Politics has a long history of being a man’s game, but things are changing, especially for Democratic candidates. A new report by the Reflective Democracy Campaign indicates that, for the first time, white men don’t constitute a majority of Democratic candidates in races for the Senate, House or state legislatures this year. Specifically, the report indicates that white men make up only 46% of Democratic Senate candidates on the ballot, 42% of Democratic House candidates and 41% of Democratic state legislature candidates.
In fact, the number of white men running in congressional general elections has decreased 13% since 2012; meanwhile, the number of white women for the same races in the same timespan has increased 36%, and the number of women of color seeking a congressional seat has increased by 75%.
“This is certainly a more reflective candidate pool than we’ve ever seen,” Brenda Choresi Carter, the group’s director, tells TIME.
The midterms could produce a string of historic firsts in congressional races and beyond. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old activist from the Bronx, is poised to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Stacey Abrams, 44, could be elected the country’s first black female governor if she beats Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp.
It’s important to have a diverse body of elected officials, according to Carter.
“We’re actually missing out on important perspectives and experiences if we don’t have that full range of representation,” she said.
Though the candidate pool is certainly more reflective than it has been in the past, it’s too soon to tell how diverse Congress and state legislatures will be post-election.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the election and how the candidates that we’re tracking here will fare,” Carter said. But “the study did show a historic shift in the demographic makeup of candidates.”
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