There’s an easy bet on Nov. 6 – the majority of members elected to the 113th Congress will be male, Caucasian, Christian and heterosexual. That’s the way it’s always been, though in recent decades there have been changes in the demographics on Capitol Hill.
Still, this year, a record number of women have campaigned for federal elected office. And the same can be said of LGBT candidates for Congress – there are an unprecedented nine out candidates for federal office in the general election.
One of them, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, is running for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin. She faces former Gov. Tommy Thompson in a close contest.
Eight other candidates are running in the general election for the U.S. House, including Democrat Mark Pocan of Wisconsin.
Currently there are no out members of the Senate and four out members of the House – Baldwin, Jared Polis, David Cicilline and Barney Frank, the Democratic titan from Massachusetts who is retiring after serving 16 terms in Congress.
Frank made history in 1987 when he came out to the Boston Globe, saying, “I don’t think my sex life is relevant to my job, but on the other hand I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m embarrassed about my life.”
The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, founded 21 years ago to elect LGBT candidates, is looking to Baldwin to make history and become the first openly gay person elected to the Senate; to Kyrsten Sinema to become the first openly bisexual person elected to the House; and to Mark Takano to become the first openly gay Asian-American elected to the House.
Patrick Maloney, who is campaigning to unseat first-term Republican Nan Hayworth, would be the first gay man elected to Congress from New York.
Richard Tisei would be the third out gay Republican to serve in Congress, but the others came out – or were outed – after their elections.
Pocan, a heavy favorite, would take Baldwin’s seat – and make Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District the first in the nation to elect two openly gay reps in a row.
Cicilline, favored in his race, is seeking a second term. Polis has been serving in Congress since 2009.
Nicole LeFavour, in probably the toughest race with a run against Republican incumbent Mike Simpson, would become the second openly lesbian member of the House.
“We’re just a few weeks away from making history,” said Chuck Wolfe, president of the Victory Fund, which endorsed all but LeFavour in the federal races. ”For the first time ever, LGBT Americans could have an authentic voice in the U.S. Senate and a record-high number of openly LGBT House members on both sides of the aisle.”
The Victory Fund, founded in 1991, has followed the lead of EMILY’S List, the donor network supporting pro-women candidates that helped propel Ann Richards to the Texas governor’s office in 1990.
At the time of the founding, there were only 49 openly LGBT people holding elected office in the entire nation.
During the Victory Fund’s first election season, in 1991, the group helped elect Sherry Harris to the Seattle City Council. By 1994, the rapidly growing fund helped elect 14 candidates and contributed more than $660,000 to campaigns.
The fund’s revenue in 2011 was about $5 million and, at the latest count, more than 500 out LGBT people hold elected office in the United States.
For the entire 2012 election cycle, the Victory Fund has endorsed a record 175 out candidates – eight for Congress, seven for legislative offices in 30 states and dozens more at the municipal, county, judicial and school board levels.
“Whether at the local, state or national level, LGBT officeholders are helping to add significant power to legislative fights to win equality for all Americans. These candidates will make sure that progress continues, and that’s why their victories this year are so important,” Wolfe said.
Among those candidates: Fargo teacher Joshua Boschee, who is running for the North Dakota House; architect Mary Ellen Broderick, who is running for the New Mexico House; attorney Nena Cook, who is running for the Oregon Supreme Court; Judge Kay Floyd, who is running for the Oklahoma House; Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who is running again; and Kevin Beckner, who is running for re-election to the Hillsborough County Commission in Florida.
Lisa Neff is senior news editor for the Wisconsin Gazette.