Women, Latinos: Record numbers in Congress

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CBS

By many measures, 2012 saw the most diverse electorate in history turn out to the polls. 2013, as a result, will see the most diverse U.S. Congress in history assume office.

Latino-Americans and women played a decisive role in yesterday's election, voting by wide margins to reelect President Obama (71 percent and 55 percent, respectively, according to exit polls.) And when the 113th Congress assumes office in January, both groups will be represented in record numbers on Capitol Hill, leaving them poised to play an equally decisive role in shaping the agenda of the years ahead.

America is changing. And from the demographics of the national electorate to the makeup of Congress, the evidence is everywhere.

The new Congress will include 20 female senators, up from 17 female senators today, and a staggering tenfold increase from the two female senators who held office 20 years ago. New female faces on Capitol Hill come January will include Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, who will also be the first openly gay member of the Senate, Hawaii's Mazie Hirono, the first Asian-American woman to serve in the Senate, and Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and triple amputee who ousted a bete-noire of liberals, Joe Walsh from Illinois' 8th Congressional district.

And had several of Tuesday's races produced a different outcome, women in Congress could have seen their ranks swell even further - Republican Senate candidates Linda McMahon in Connecticut and Heather Wilson in New Mexico were defeated by male opponents. And in the House, GOP candidate Mia Love, who would have been the first black female Republican in Congress, failed to oust Rep. Jim Matheson from his Utah house seat.

But despite the scattered losses, the net outcome is being greeted with elation by women's groups and at least one of the victorious female candidates.

Last night was "an amazing milestone," said EMILY's List, a group that works to elect pro-choice women. "The gains women have made this election are real, and they're here to stay...On critical issues like equal pay and access to health care, more women in Congress means an agenda that's better for American families."

Yesterday, on "CBS This Morning", Massachusetts Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren, who defeated incumbent GOP Sen. Scott Brown, offered an enthusiastic "Hubba-hubba!" when she was asked about the prospect of more women in Congress.

Asked whether more women walking the halls of Congress is a good thing and whether their presence will make a difference, Warren minced no words: "Yes and yes...it's time. Come on - there was still, this year, a big debate over equal pay for equal work. No. It's time. It's time."

But she didn't promise to reinvent the wheel - when Warren was asked whether women simply know something about politics that men don't, she smiled, obviously enjoying the question - and then demurred: "Interesting question. I don't know."

And the record number of women in Congress is no accident - at a press conference the day after the election, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who helmed the Senate Democrats' campaign arm, explained, "We recruited and nominated the most Democratic women ever...I believe that is a great thing for our country."