WASHINGTON — More female veterans are running for Congress this November than ever before. A total of 14 women are competing in congressional contests next month, and polling so far suggests several are likely to win new seats.
If so, it could dramatically increase the number of female veterans from the four currently in Congress today. Two of them — Republican Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst and Democratic Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth — are guaranteed to return, since they don’t face re-election this year.
Here are five races with female veterans to watch on election night:
Martha McSally, Republican, Arizona Senate
McSally, a former Air Force pilot who currently serves in the House, is in one of the most tightly contested Senate races in the country, one that could decide which party controls the upper chamber next year. Recent polls have given her a slight edge heading into the final days of campaigning.
In her four years in office, McSally has already carved out a role as a vocal member of the House Armed Services Committee. If she wins a Senate seat, she would likely join Ernst as a senior female voice for Senate Republicans on a host of defense and veterans issues.
Mikie Sherrill, Democrat, New Jersey 11th
Sherrill, a former Navy lieutenant commander, is vying to replace retiring Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen. Recent polls show her ahead, a result that could help her party gain a majority in the House.
She has received significant support from veterans groups, women’s advocates and other left-leaning resources. But she has also talked extensively on the campaign trail about her background as a helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor, and should could emerge as a key national security voice for Democrats in Congress next year.
Chrissy Houlahan, Democrat, Pennsylvania 6th
Like Sherrill, Houlahan — a former Air Force captain — is favored to win in a congressional seat currently held by a Republican (Rep. Ryan Costello). Pennsylvania is a key election battleground every two years, and following redistricting mandated by the Supreme Court earlier this year, Democrats are anticipating big gains in the state’s races.
Given her advantage in recent polls and in fundraising over the last few months, Houlahan’s seat appears to be a must-win for Democrats if they hope to shift the balance of power in the House.
Amy McGrath, Democrat, Kentucky 6th
McGrath, a former Marine Corps pilot who flew combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, could serve as an early indicator on election night as to whether Democrats can take control of the House. Kentucky is among the first polls nationwide to close, and the race results could be made public early.
She trails in most polls in the decidedly Republican district but has seen a significant influx of outside money in support of her. She’s also received direct criticism in recent weeks from President Donald Trump, who labeled her “an extreme liberal chosen by (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi,” an attack that could help or hurt her depending on voters’ November mood.
Gina Ortiz Jones, Democrat, Texas 23rd
Jones, an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq, is a long-shot to upset incumbent Republican Rep. Will Hurd. But her experience and campaign work has raised her profile significantly, and she could secure an upset victory if Democratic turnout in Texas outpaces expectations.
If so, she would become the first out lesbian veteran in Congress and the first Filipina-American to represent Texas there. She has spoken on the campaign trail about her experience serving under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, and has argued that many of Trump’s military policies have weakened national security.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.