There’s Likely to Be a Record Number of Female Senators Next Year

Catherine Cortez Masto and Elizabeth Warren, women in the Senate, Nevada Senate race

Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, pictured here with Senator Elizabeth Warren, is one of several female candidates involved in high-profile Senate races. (Getty)

If the polls and election forecasts are correct, Hillary Clinton will be elected Tuesday as America’s first female President. But that isn’t the only gender-related storyline unfolding as voters throughout the country head to the polls. There’s also a good chance that the Congress voters elect Tuesday will have the most female Senators in history.

There are already as many female Senators in office now as there have been at any point in history. The 114th Congress, which took office in 2015, has 20 female Senators, the same number as the 113th Congress, which took office in 2013. The 115th Congress is almost certain to have at least 20 female Senators, and it could have as many as 23 if female candidates prevail Tuesday in close races.

Of the 34 Senate races taking place Tuesday, 14 feature female candidates. There are eight female Democrats facing male Republicans; three female Republicans facing male Democrats; one female Democrat facing a female Republican; two female Democrats facing one another; and one female Democrat taking part in the so-called “jungle primary” in Louisiana, which includes nine candidates.

Five of the Senate’s 20 female members have terms expiring. Two — Democrats Barbara Boxer of California and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland — are retiring. The other three — Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington — are running for re-election. Four of the five seats are nearly certain to have a female occupant when the new Congress takes office next January. The one exception is in Maryland, where Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen is expected to easily beat GOP candidate Kathy Szeliga. (Murray, who’s being challenged by former state GOP chairman Chris Vance, and Murkowski, who’s being challenged by former state Rep. Ray Metcalfe, are considered virtual locks to win re-election. The two candidates vying for Boxer’s seat — Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez — are both women. Ayotte is being challenged by Governor Maggie Hassan.)

But in four other races, there’s a realistic chance that a female candidate will be elected Tuesday to succeed a male Senator. In three states, a female Democrat is seeking to unseat a male Republican incumbent: Congresswoman Tammy Tuckworth against Senator Mark Kirk in Illinois, former state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGiny against Senator Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, and former state Representative Deborah Ross against Senator Richard Burr in North Carolina. In Nevada, former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is running for a seat being vacated by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who’s retiring. Congressman Joe Heck is the GOP nominee.

There are six additional female candidates on the ballot Tuesday who are heavy underdogs: Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick (Arizona), Patty Judge (Iowa), Misty Snow (Utah) and Caroline Fayard (Louisiana), and Republicans Kathy Szeliga (Maryland) and Wendy Long (New York.)

The tables below break down the head-to-head matchups featuring female candidates.

Senate Races Involving Female Candidates

Female Democrat vs. Male Republican

Ann Kirkpatrick John McCain AZ
Patty Judge Chuck Grassley IA
Tammy Duckworth Mark Kirk IL
Deborah Ross Richard Burr NC
Catherine Cortz Masto Joe Heck NV
Katie McGinty Pat Toomey PA
Misty Snow Mike Lee UT
Patty Murray Chris Vance WA

Male Democrat vs. Female Republican

Ray Metcalfe Lisa Murkowski AK
Chris Van Hollen Kathy Szeliga MD
Chuck Schumer Wendy Long NY

Female Democrat vs. Female Republican

Maggie Hasssan Kelly Ayotte NH

Female Democrat vs. Female Democrat

Kamala Harris Loretta Sanchez CA


There Will Likely Be Between 20 & 23 Female Senators in the Next Congress

Katie McGinty at Hillary Clinton rally, Hillary Clinton rally in Pennsylvania, Women running for Senate

Democrat Katie McGinty is favored to unseat Republican Senator Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. (Getty)

Female candidates are playing a central role in the battle for partisan control for the Senate, which will be determined by an unusually large group of close races. (The Democrats need a net gain of four seats if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency and five seats if Donald Trump wins in order to retake control of the chamber.) As Fivethirtyeight’s Harry Enten recently wrote, five Senate races headed into November decided by 2 percentage points or fewer in the polls. Four of those five races — in New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — feature female candidates. In all but New Hampshire, a female Democrat is running against a male Republican.

Barring a massive upset in Illinois, where Duckworth has a double-digit lead over Kirk, the number of female Senators in the next Congress will at least hold steady. The question, then, is whether there will be a net gain of zero, one, two or three female Senators. And a look at polling, early voting results and data from prediction markets suggests there’s a very good chance female candidates will pick up at least one additional seat.

Predictwise, a website that aggregates data from betting markets, gives two additional female candidates at least a 79 percent chance of beating their male counterparts. Katie McGinty, who has led in almost every recent survey over Pat Toomey, entered Monday with an 82 percent chance of winning. Catherine Cortez Masto entered the day with a 79 percent chance of winning, thanks to the large advantage registered Democrats had over registered Republicans in early voting.

That leaves North Carolina as the only state out of that group where the male candidate is favored to beat the female candidate. Predictwise has Richard Burr as a 69 percent favorite to beat Deborah Ross in a race whose polling has been all over the place. The HuffPo Pollster average of polls has Burr leading by just 1.4 percentage points, and recent surveys have showed everything from a 4-point lead for Ross to a 6-point lead for Burr.