This week saw a historic election for women, both on the ballot and at the ballot box. Women knew what was at stake and showed up at the polls in 2008-level numbers, making up 53 percent of the electorate. Not only were women decisive in reelecting President Obama to a second term, but they helped usher in a record number of women into the halls of Congress.
In 2012, a record number of women were off the sidelines and running for Congress. 184 women were on the ballot on Tuesday and it's looking likely that we'll see women's representation in Congress rise from under 17 percent to almost 19 percent with a record 81 women elected to the House (and counting) and 20 elected to the U.S. Senate.
Included in that group are Mazie Hirono in Hawaii, who will be the first Asian-American woman -- and the first Buddhist -- Senator. We'll also have Tammy Baldwin, the U.S. Senate's first openly gay member. And it's worth noting that Hirono in Hawaii, Baldwin in Wisconsin, Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota are all the first women to serve in the U.S. Senate from their respective states.
This wave of women was disproportionately Democratic, powered by an electorate galvanized behind President Obama (women supported him 55 percent to 44 percent) and Democratic Senate candidates in support of the expansion of economic opportunity for women as well as access to health care and trust in women to make their own health decisions. Single women in particular turned out for Democrats, making up 23 percent of the electorate (up from 20 percent in 2008,) 67 percent of whom voted for President Obama.
When I started Off The Sidelines to encourage women to make their voices heard in their communities and participate in politics, whether by voting or running for office themselves, one of the goals was to increase the number of women in elected office. More women means more diverse views that represent a wider swath of the electorate. Women bring different experiences and perspectives to bear on decision making, so I truly believe that as more women are elected, the better the outcomes will be for everyone.
To that end, I was proud to be able to help raise more than $1 million for women candidates all over the country this cycle, including many who won, including our four new female Democratic Senators-elect, House candidates and Iraq War veterans Tulsi Gabbard in Hawaii and Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, as well as New York's first female Asian-American member of the House, Grace Meng.
But I'm also so impressed and proud of the women who didn't win this time. Running for office isn't easy, but I believe it's essential that more women -- win or lose -- get off the sidelines and get in that ring. I was heartened that in three states, including in my own race, women were the nominees for Senate of both parties. Women who run for office today will inspire more of our young women and girls to do so in the future, so we can one day get to 51 percent representation.
And maybe we'll even see more states like New Hampshire which, on Tuesday, became the first state to elect an all women Congressional delegation along with Governor-elect Maggie Hassan!.
This is what history looks like.
Follow Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SenGillibrand