House ranks, but Senate outlook uncertain

Just 13 members of the House and nine senators are Republican women

Republican Beth Van Duyne, here campaigning in Irving, Texas, in February, is in a hotly contested race for the open 24th District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Republican Beth Van Duyne, here campaigning in Irving, Texas, in February, is in a hotly contested race for the open 24th District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Posted September 2, 2020 at 5:00am

Republican women in Congress sounded the alarm over their dwindling ranks after the 2018 midterms. Now, with most 2020 primaries in the rear view, they appear poised to boost their numbers in the House next year, but only slightly — while the Senate could see fewer Republican women.

A record number of GOP women ran for federal office this cycle, a promising sign for those in the party who want to boost Republican female representation from the current 13 in the House and nine in the Senate. But primaries and fundraising still proved to be obstacles.

Of the 227 Republican women who filed to run for the House, 90 were nominated. That’s a record, and nearly 70 percent above the previous the high of 53 in 2004, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

But not all of them are in winnable seats. Even in some of the best-case scenarios for Republicans, women would make up just 10 percent of GOP lawmakers in the House and the Senate next year.

“We’re going to have to rebuild, and we know that,” Indiana GOP Rep. Susan W. Brooks said in a Tuesday phone interview.

“All of the new women who come to Congress, new Republican women, are just going to be part of the path to rebuilding and trying to just change the dynamic for the future,” Brooks said.

By the numbers

Brooks, who led the National Republican Congressional Committee’s recruitment effort this cycle, viewed enlisting record numbers of women and candidates of color as a success.

But the number of GOP women who could actually join the House varies when taking into account their prospects in competitive races. To start with, Brooks herself and Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama are both not running again, so just maintaining the status quo in the House would require electing two more women.

Of the 11 Republican women in the House who are running for reelection, two of them — Ann Wagner of Missouri and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington — are in races that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as competitive. That leaves nine women in races rated Solid Republican who are expected to return.

Another five women won GOP primaries for open House races rated Solid Republican, so they are also likely to come to Congress. One open seat that won’t choose a nominee until November at the earliest, Louisiana’s 5th District, backed President Donald Trump by 30 points in 2016. But none of the top fundraisers in that race is a woman.

So if Wagner, Herrera Beutler and every female GOP candidate in a competitive race were to lose in November, the House roster of Republican women could still slightly increase from 13 to 14.

But if Wagner, Herrera Beutler and all GOP women in targeted and competitive races were to win in November, the number of female Republicans in the House would triple.

Of the 55 Democratic seats the NRCC is targeting, 22 have female GOP nominees. Three other Republican women are running in competitive open seats where the GOP incumbent is retiring or was defeated in a primary.

And if they all win, the next Congress could include 41 GOP women in the House. That scenario is unlikely, however, as the political environment has shifted away from Republicans. Some of the NRCC targets featuring GOP women include districts Trump lost, such as Virginia’s 10th, where Marine veteran Aliscia Andrews is taking on freshman Democrat Jennifer Wexton. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Democratic.

Of the 22 women taking on targeted Democrats, just 14 are in races Inside Elections rates as competitive. Some GOP strategists expect the number of Republican women in the House next year to ultimately be in the low to mid-20s.

Julie Conway, executive director of VIEW PAC, which is dedicated to electing more GOP women, noted that all five of the most vulnerable House Democrats are being challenged by Republican women.

“That has never happened,” she said, later adding, “All eyes are on those five seats.”

The Senate could have fewer GOP women after November, since Martha McSally of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia are all locked in competitive races. Though former Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis did win the GOP Senate primary to replace retiring Republican Michael B. Enzi in deep-red Wyoming, so she is expected to come to the chamber next year.

In the worst case scenario, where all four GOP women in tough races lose, the number of Republican women in the Senate would likely decrease to six. If they all win, that number would increase to 10.

So even in some of the best case scenarios, GOP women would make up just 10 percent of each chamber, compared with 20 percent for female Democrats.

“At the end of the day, the goal is to have a Congress that reflects America. At this moment, the number of Republican women in office and the number of Republican women who are going to be up in the general [election] doesn’t reflect that,” said Olivia Perez-Cubas, a spokeswoman for Winning for Women, which supports female GOP candidates.

Obstacles remain

While convincing GOP women to run has traditionally been a challenge, Brooks said this year Republicans have “broken through most of the obstacles in recruitment.”

Republican women were moved to run to counter Democratic women who found success in 2018, Brooks said. Losing the House majority also presented more opportunities to run in competitive districts, with challengers taking on first-term Democrats instead of a sitting Republican in a primary.

Still, some obstacles remain. Brooks and other Republicans listed fundraising as a persistent issue for female candidates. Another, despite the record number of female nominees this year, is primaries.

“We still have a challenge in getting women through primaries. We take a lot of ‘friendly fire,’” said Conway, referring to other outside groups such as the Club for Growth or the political arm of the House Freedom Caucus spending heavily in primaries, sometimes backing a male candidate over a female one.

The NRCC does not take sides in primaries, but Brooks noted that GOP leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, did weigh in on primaries this cycle, many times supporting female Republican candidates. For some, having party leaders acknowledge the lack of women as a problem was a victory in itself.

“Look how far we’ve come from when Elise said, ‘I’m not asking for permission,’” Perez-Cubas said.

She was referring to when New York GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik decided after the 2018 midterms to take sides in GOP primaries and support female candidates, which NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer said was a “mistake.” Emmer later joined Stefanik when she launched her PAC, saying, “We’re going to align with you to the extent we can.”

Perez-Cubas said groups such as Winning for Women, VIEW PAC and Stefanik’s E-PAC are working to address primary challenges that remain.

“This is a problem that Republican women have had for a very long time,” she said. “It’s not going to solve itself in one cycle.”

Winning for Women’s super PAC spent in primaries this cycle to support Texas GOP Rep. Kay Granger, who defeated a primary challenger backed by the Club for Growth, and former Irving, Texas, Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who won a five-way Republican primary for the open 24th District.

This week, the group’s super PAC launched its first TV ads of the general election, supporting Oklahoma state Sen. Stephanie Bice, who’s taking on Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn, and attacking Iowa Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who faces GOP state Rep. Ashley Hinson.

But boosting candidates in top targeted races isn’t the only challenge. Increasing the number of women in Congress also involves elevating female candidates in safe Republican open seats who are likely to come to Congress if they win the GOP primary.

Just five of the 20 open deep-red House seats have female Republican nominees. That group includes Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won the primary runoff in Georgia’s 14th District, despite supporting the QAnon internet conspiracy theory and voicing bigoted views.

Conway said Greene could complicate races featuring other Republican women, because Democrats may try to tie them to Greene’s extreme positions.

“When you have to start talking about the things you don’t stand for, [it’s] not ideal,” she said.

But Brooks dismissed concerns that adding Greene to the House GOP Conference could complicate races for other GOP women.

“We have an incredible diversity of opinions and views within the Republican women now, and I think we will in the next Congress as well,” she said.

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