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Women candidates have shattered records this election cycle. Election Day will test if they can break the most important one 

Key Points
  • First, a record number of women filed to run for office. Then a record number won their primaries.
  • With voters heading to the polls on Tuesday, the most important record remains to be broken. Can a record number take office?
  • "It's not a single narrative of women success across the board, but about certain types of women candidates," said Kelly Dittmar, a researcher at the Center for American Women and Politics. "Women of color, and the potential to increase racial and ethnic diversity in these offices."
Stacey Abrams, Marsha Blackburn, and Sharice Davids
Getty Images; CNBC; Getty Images

It has been a record-breaking season for women in politics.

First, a record number of women filed to run for office. Then a record number won their primaries. With voters heading to the polls on Tuesday, the most important record remains to be broken. Can a record number take office?

Experts say women appear poised to make a wave in the House of Representatives. But their chances are less robust in other areas.

It is less likely that women will set records in the Senate and in races for governor, said Kelly Dittmar, a researcher at the Center for American Women and Politics, a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. She added that among Republicans, it's likely that women will actually lose representation in the House.

Women will have to take 85 seats in order to surpass the House record of 84 set in 2013, according to CAWP's tally. In the Senate, the number to beat is 23. In 2004, women won nine races for governor, a record that stands to this day.

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But Dittmar said it's important to look beyond the numbers.

"It's not a single narrative of women success across the board, but about certain types of women candidates," Dittmar said. The narrative, she said, is about "women of color, and the potential to increase racial and ethnic diversity in these offices."

Indeed, in Michigan, Democrat Rashida Tlaib, facing no Republican challenger, is on track to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. In Minnesota, Somali refugee Ilhan Omar is also vying for the title. A victory for Omar would also mark the first time voters sent a Somali-American to Washington.

Sharice Davids is favored by pollsters to make history as a lesbian Native American in Congress. She is poised to unseat Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, who handily won election to his Kansas district in 2016. Another Native American woman, Deb Haaland, is also likely to win a seat in a Democrat-leaning New Mexico district that went for both Clinton and Obama by double digits.

Democratic women are also positioned for gains in Pennsylvania, including three or more women who could crash the state's all-male House delegation. The state has never had more than two women at a time in its congressional delegation.

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While overall records for women governorships may not fall, there are more women running for governor than ever before, according to Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster and the president of Lake Research Partners. She expects this cycle to see a swell of women elected to gubernatorial seats in states such as Michigan, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon.

In a race with a potentially huge prize, Democrat Stacey Abrams is neck and neck with Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp in a bare-knuckled fight to win Georgia's gubernatorial race. She could become the first African-American woman to become governor of a U.S. state.

In the Senate, a Republican woman has a chance to make history. Rep. Marsha Blackburn could become Tennessee's first female senator, after becoming the first GOP woman nominated as a Senate candidate in that state.

The final test for female candidates this cycle comes amid a particularly charged moment for gender relations in the country.

Just last month, Americans in both parties sparred over President Donald Trump's nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, as the media focused on Kavanaugh and the women who accused him of sexual assault or misconduct.

Analysts said the impact of the #MeToo movement, which has brought down dozens of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct, could have a more lasting impact than the movement that preceded the 1992 elections. That movement, sparked by the contentious Anita Hill hearing during the nomination process for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, sent so many women to Congress that it was dubbed the "Year of the Woman."

Women also outvoted men in key states' early voting totals, a pattern consistent across the past two biennial election cycles in 2016 and 2014, according to NBC News' Data Analytics Lab.

"It's the year of the woman. It's the year of the woman candidate, woman voter and woman donor. It will be women who will determine control of these races," Lake said.