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Six races for governor that could make history this midterm election

Follow live updates from Election Day 2022 here.

U.S. politicians are supposed to represent the entire public, but the majority come from a group that makes up less than one-third of Americans: white men.

Take the 50 U.S. state governors in office. Forty-seven are white without Latino heritage, and 41 are men, according to Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics.

But 2022 is shaping up to be a history-making year.

"We have a record number of women who are running for governor in this cycle," says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

States are also poised to elect a Black governor for just the third time in the nation's history, and the first openly lesbian governor.

Successful candidates that are not white or male "really disrupt a lot of the stereotypes and the images of what it means to be a top level leader," says Walsh, and that can lay the foundation for even more diverse representation in higher office. For example, the United States has never had a female president, she says.

Here are six races where one, or both, gubernatorial candidates would be a "first," either in their state or nationwide, if elected. While not a comprehensive list, these are races where such history-making candidates are favored to win or are in a close race.

Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former Trump White House press secretary, addresses the America First Policy Institute's America First Agenda Summit at the Marriott Marquis on Tuesday, July 26, 2022.
/ Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
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Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former Trump White House press secretary, addresses the America First Policy Institute's America First Agenda Summit at the Marriott Marquis on July 26.

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is on the ballot in Arkansas. If elected, she would be the state's first female governor. Polling averages show Sanders, a Republican, with a double-digit lead over her opponent, according to FiveThirtyEight.

While unlikely he would be elected in 2022, Democratic candidate Chris Jones, a former non-profit executive who attended M.I.T., would be the first Black governor to represent the Natural State.

Georgia

Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks at a rally in Atlanta, Georgia, United States on Nov. 5, 2022.
/ Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks at a rally in Atlanta on Saturday

No state has ever elected a Black woman to the governor's office. In Georgia, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams is running to oust sitting Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican. A voting rights advocate and former state lawmaker, Abrams has pushed to increase Democratic turnout in Georgia. Those efforts were credited with helping President Joe Biden win the state – and the White House – in 2020.

In her first race against Kemp in 2018, Abrams came within two percentage points of winning the governor's office. However, polls currently show the rematch leaning Republican.

Maryland

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore addresses a campaign rally at the Stamp Student Union on the campus of the University of Maryland on October 26, 2022 in College Park, Maryland.
/ Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Maryland Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore addresses a campaign rally at the Stamp Student Union on the campus of the University of Maryland on Oct. 26 in College Park.

In solidly blue Maryland, Democratic candidate Wes Moore would be the first Black governor in the state's history. Down ballot also shows more first potential, as NPR previously reported.

Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Aruna Miller would be the first Asian-American to hold statewide office in the Free State. In the state attorney general's race, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown could be the first African-American elected to the role. Brooke Lierman, a state delegate, is running to be Maryland's first female comptroller. All are Democrats.

If Abrams loses in Georgia, Moore could be the only Black governor in the United States, and only the third African-American ever elected governor in the country.

Massachusetts

State Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, is running to fill a seat left open by outgoing Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. If elected, Healey would be the first elected female governor in the state. Lieutenant governor Jane Swift previously served as governor from 2001 to 2003 after Gov. Paul Cellucci accepted a post as the U.S. Ambassador to Canada.

Healey, along with Oregon's Tina Kotek (below), are likely to be the first openly lesbians elected as governors in the United States. The Cook Political Report rates the Massachusetts race as leaning solidly Democrat.

New York

Kathy Hochul, governor of New York, speaks during a Get Out The Vote event at Barnard College in New York, US, on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022.
/ Anthony Behar/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Anthony Behar/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Kathy Hochul, governor of New York, speaks during a Get Out The Vote event at Barnard College on Nov. 3.

Kathy Hochul is already the first female governor in New York. But 2022 is the first time voters could choose her for the role. The former lieutenant governor, she assumed the state's top office after Andrew Cuomo resigned in 2021 amidst allegations of sexual misconduct.

Hochul faces U.S. Congressman Lee Zeldin, a Republican who currently represents the 1st District in Long Island.

Oregon

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tina Kotek speaks with members of the media before casting her ballot at a ballot drop box on Nov. 2, 2022 in Portland, Oregon.
/ Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Getty Images
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Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Getty Images
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tina Kotek speaks with members of the media before casting her ballot at a ballot drop box on Nov. 2 in Portland, Ore.

Tina Kotek (along with Massachusetts's Maura Healey) could be the first openly lesbian governor in the nation. However, the Oregon race is rated a toss-up between Kotek and GOP candidate Christine Drazan. The X factor is independent candidate Betsy Johnson, a former Democrat with deep-pocketed supporters. This midterm cycle has the highest number of all-female matchups in gubernatorial races, according to The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Oregon currently has an openly bisexual governor, Democrat Kate Brown, and Colorado elected openly gay Gov. Jared Polis in 2018.

If Drazan claims victory, she'll be Oregon's first Republican governor in 40 years. That would be its own kind of history making.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Laura Benshoff
Laura Benshoff is a reporter covering energy and climate for NPR's National desk. Prior to this assignment, she spent eight years at WHYY, Philadelphia's NPR Member station. There, she most recently focused on the economy and immigration. She has reported on the causes of the Great Resignation, Afghans left behind after the U.S. troop withdrawal and how a government-backed rent-to-own housing program failed its tenants. Other highlights from her time at WHYY include exploring the dynamics of the 2020 presidential election cycle through changing communities in central Pennsylvania and covering comedian Bill Cosby's criminal trials.