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WASHINGTON (AP) — The vote to determine control of the House featured significant milestones. The candidates included 237 women, more than ever before. Among the winners were the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and several who broke racial or other barriers. A look at some of the victorious candidates:
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (New York Democrat)
At 29, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman elected to Congress. Ocasio-Cortez has said she is still paying off her student loans and until recently had no health insurance.
She shocked many in New York politics, including herself, when she came out of nowhere to defeat 10-term Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s Democratic congressional primary last spring.
The victory made her the national face of young, discontented Democrats — often women and minorities — trying to shove their party to the left.
Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx but raised in suburban Westchester County. Her father died while she was a student at Boston University in 2008. She got her start in politics as an organizer for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. She calls herself a “Democratic socialist” and supports a national $15 minimum wage and universal health care coverage.
She takes the record for the youngest woman elected to Congress from Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican representing upstate New York who was elected at age 30. American voters have elected many men in their 20s to Congress.
AYANNA PRESSLEY (Massachusetts Democrat)
Ayanna Pressley is the first black woman elected to the House from Massachusetts. The 44-year-old Democrat sailed through Tuesday’s general election unopposed, two months after a surprise unseating of 10-term Rep. Michael Capuano in the state primary, an upset victory that drew comparisons to that of Ocasio-Cortez.
Her Boston-area district, once represented by John F. Kennedy, is now the first in Massachusetts where minorities make up a majority of the voting population.
In 2009, Pressley was the first African-American elected to the Boston City Council. Before that, she worked as an aide to Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy and Sen. John Kerry.
Ideologically, Pressley was like the candidate she defeated in the primary: liberal, a self-described progressive. But the white, middle-aged incumbent didn’t look like many voters in his district, even though Pressley herself had bristled at the notion that race was a defining issue in the contest.
But Pressley also made clear the importance of diversity in the nation’s halls of power.
“I do think that our democracy is strengthened by an engagement of new and different voices,” she told college newspaper editors in Boston in October.
ILHAN OMAR (Minnesota Democrat)
The nation’s first Somali-American state legislator has carved her place in history again as the first Somali elected to Congress and one of its first Muslim women.
Omar, a Democrat who served a single term in the Minnesota Legislature, easily won Tuesday’s election for the Minneapolis-area congressional district being vacated by Rep. Keith Ellison.
Omar was born in Somalia but spent much of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp as civil war tore apart her home country. She immigrated to the United States at age 12, teaching herself English by watching American TV and eventually settling with her family in Minneapolis, home to the world’s largest Somali population outside of East Africa.
Her political rise began in 2016, when she unseated a 44-year incumbent in a Democratic primary en route to winning her legislative seat later that year.
Omar’s win was a near lock because Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District is heavily liberal. But her campaign was still dogged by some questions, including allegations that she used state House campaign funding for personal expenses such as a divorce attorney and international travel. She denied the allegations and said the Republican state lawmaker behind them was “using taxpayer dollars to harass a Muslim candidate.”
DONNA SHALALA (Florida Democrat)
After serving in President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet and running major universities, Donna Shalala is starting a third career with her election to the House.
The 77-year-old Democrat won Tuesday in a Miami district that had long been in Republican hands. Shalala has sought to turn her age into a positive by stressing her experience with this slogan: “Ready on Day One.”
Shalala served as Clinton’s secretary of Health and Human Services for his entire presidency and has made health care a centerpiece of her agenda. She was president of the University of Wisconsin before that, and after Cabinet service she ran the University of Miami until 2015.
After that, Shalala was president of the Clinton Foundation until 2017. She counts the Clintons as close friends; Hillary Clinton campaigned for her this year in Miami.
Asked in a recent interview why she chose to take this fresh path after such a long career, Shalala said: “What I decided in my mind was that I wasn’t finished with public service. I wanted to take a shot.”
Shalala is originally from Cleveland, is of Lebanese descent and has a twin sister. She has lived in the Miami area since 2001.
Associated Press writers Karen Matthews in New York City; William J. Kole in Boston; Kyle Potter in St. Paul, Minn.; and Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.
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