After the 2012 election, for the first time ever women and racial minorities combined to form a majority within the House Democratic caucus. It was a historical milestone—one that's unlikely to be reversed after the 2014 midterms.
A National Journal analysis of the House Democratic candidates most likely to take office in 2015 shows that the caucus is very likely, on a percentage basis, to fall under even greater control of female and minority members. The final demographic makeup, of course, will depend on November's elections, but the party's top contenders—especially those candidates succeeding longtime members in safely Democratic districts—are overwhelmingly either minority or female.
Two congressional districts in Michigan offer a telling example. Rep. John Dingell is retiring, and Rep. Gary Peters is running for the Senate, but both of their safely Democratic seats will be filled by women in 2015. Dingell's wife, Debbie, won the nomination to succeed him, while Brenda Lawrence, an African-American mayor, won the right to succeed Peters.
The continually increasing diversity of its ranks is the result of the party's commitment to recruiting different kinds of candidates, House Democratic officials say. But it's also a reflection of the demographic makeup of Democrats' electoral coalition, which is heavily minority and dependent on female voters, and the fact that many of the congressional districts they hold are themselves racially diverse.
In the current Democratic Caucus, 106 of 201 lawmakers are either female or minority (27 fit both categories). That's 53 percent of the whole caucus.
National Journal projected which of the party's candidates are most likely to join that group using House-race ratings from The Cook Political Report. Given that the number could vary widely depending on whether House Democrats gain or lose seats (most experts predict they will lose a small number of them), we considered several scenarios.
If Democrats win races only in seats tagged "safe" or "likely," for example, 100 of their 175 members would not be white man. Although that would represent a decline in the total number of minority members, it would nonetheless mean that they control a greater portion of the caucus than before, up to 57 percent from 53 percent.
The loss of 26 seats is a worst-case scenario for the party. But even under more-optimistic projections, minorities and women still would grow as a share of the caucus. If Democrats also win every seat Cook considers "leaning" in their direction, they would control seven of the 13 additional seats and again hold a 57 percent majority. If Democrats also win an additional 16 "toss-up" races, there would be 114 lawmakers in the caucus who are black or female, good for 56 percent.
In all of the scenarios, the bottom-line is the same: House Democrats will, as a percentage, have fewer white men among their ranks than they currently do.
House Democratic leaders boasted about their diversity, which they noted also included members who are gay, after last year's elections. "These leaders will ensure that the voices of all Americans will have a seat at the table, the interests of every American represented in the halls of government, and no American is left behind in the public debate," Nancy Pelosi said at the time.
And Democratic campaign officials said they placed a special emphasis once again this cycle on recruiting women and minorities to run for office.
"It's because women, people of color, and LGBT Americans know if they want someone to have their back, it's the Democratic Party," said Emily Bittner, spokeswoman for the DCCC. "And that's why, year after year, we can elect more women, more and more people of color, more and more LGBT Americans. It's something we're deeply committed to as a party at all levels."
Democratic aides predict the caucus's diversity will remain intact for the foreseeable future. Whether that's true is difficult to determine; one factor working in its favor is the Democrats' status as the House minority party. Winning the majority means winning heavily white districts, which in many cases will mean landing white—and often white male—recruits.
In some ways, the House Democrats' current recruiting class bears that out. Of the 29 Republican-held districts Cookdoes not consider safe for the GOP, Democrats have nominated a white man in 17, nearly 60 percent of the recruiting class.