Heidi Heitkamp Wins: North Dakota Senate Adds to Record Number of Women in Senate

The evening of Nov. 6, 2012 was a record-breaking one for women, with an unprecedented number of women running for seats  — 141 in the House and 18 in the Senate — and winning them, too. There are currently 17 female senators (also the current record) but this year will break that record.

All six Democratic female senators won their re-election successfully yesterday: Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.). Two female senators, Kay Hutchison of Texas and Olympia Snowe of Maine, both Republicans, are retiring, but they will be replaced by four new female senators: Republican Deb Fischer (Neb.) and Democrats Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.). Baldwin also has the distinction of being the first ever openly gay person elected to Senate.

And on Wednesday afternoon in an incredibly close race, Republican Rick Berg conceded the North Dakota Senate race to Heidi Heitkamp, giving women an unprecedented close-to-fifth of the Senate.

No matter the party affiliation of these senators, this result is cause for celebration.

Not only does this record represent a step towards congress more fully representing its constituents - including the roughly half who are women - but also a growing number of female senators may contribute to better bipartisan work, which is desprately needed in this country right now. Susan Carroll, a professor of political science at Rutgers and a senior scholar for the Center for American Women and Politics notes that "There's a significant history of women working well together across party lines." 

Senate numbers aren't the only places women are breaking records. New Hampshire became the first state ever to elect an all-women delegation, with the victories of  Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), and Congresswomen Carol Shea-Porter (D) and Ann McLane Kuster (D). In Utah, a record was almost broken by Mia Love, who would have been the first African American woman senator, but in a hotly contested race, she lost to incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson (D).

Yet if the number of female candidates continues to increase as it did this year, such records should not stand unbroken for long.