Updated: May 18, 2020
Julia Manchester | May 5, 2020
Republican women are helping to drive a 2020 surge in female House candidates, a sign of hope for GOP women who have seen their share of seats drop in recent years.
Data released this week by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University shows an overall uptick in women seeking seats in the House this year, with 490 filing to run so far. Democratic women still lead, with 295 filing to run.
But Republicans have greatly improved their numbers, with 195 women running in House races under the party’s banner this year. That’s up from a previous record of 133 during the Tea Party wave in 2010.
The National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) says it has a total of 223 GOP women running this cycle. CAWP’s candidate count is from state government candidate listings and is updated after filing deadlines have passed.
There are currently 101 women serving in the House, made up of 88 Democrats and only 13 Republicans, according to CAWP. In 2006, there were 25 GOP women in the chamber.
“This year, you’re seeing a closing of the gap where the increase in candidates overall, hitting this record, is due in large part to this increase in Republican women, whereas Democratic women are sort of pacing based on 2018,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at CAWP.
Strategists say the uptick can be attributed to what they say is a change in party culture, as well as early and expanded recruiting efforts from GOP groups including Maggie’s List, Winning for Women and Rep. Elise Stefanik’s (R-N.Y.) Elevate PAC.
Boosting the effort is a shift toward supporting female candidates ahead of primaries, as opposed to waiting until nominees are chosen.
“We were getting involved in general elections. Everybody, mostly the party, would say stay away from primaries, let the primary work its way out,” said Maggie’s List national spokeswoman Jennifer Carroll. “But we saw our female, conservative candidates were not breaking out of the primaries because the men already had it locked up.”
Maggie’s List has had six of its endorsed candidates go on to win their primaries this year.
Stefanik, widely seen as the face of the GOP’s push to elect more women, has pledged to support top female Republican primary candidates. And the New York congresswoman told The Hill that her PAC also works to help women understand the metrics by which strong campaigns are measured, including data and fundraising.
“We try to put the candidates through their paces to develop into top-tier recruits by meeting those certain metrics,” Stefanik said.
Republican Amanda Makki, who is challenging Florida Rep. Charlie Crist(D) in the state’s 13th Congressional District, said she received “unwavering support” from Stefanik once she proved she was a top candidate by meeting the needed data and fundraising benchmarks. “What Elise has done has really put young women on the map for all other members to really try and promote,” Makki said.
Stefanik said women now make up more than half of the NRCC’s Young Guns program, which highlights the most competitive congressional districts this cycle.
“We’ve never even been close to that before,” she said.
NRCC spokesman Michael McAdams praised the record number of women running, saying Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), the chairman of the NRCC, “has made it a priority to recruit a diverse slate of candidates.”
Republican women and strategists have also pointed to a culture change within the party, prompting more women to launch campaigns.
Stefanik and Emmer clashed in 2018 over her efforts to attract women to Republican primaries, with Emmer pointing to the committee’s policy of maintaining neutrality in primaries. Emmer, however, has since praised Stefanik’s efforts, saying last year the committee would help “to the extent we can.” A number of Republican lawmakers have gotten behind Stefanik’s cause and contributed to her PAC, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.).
“It is really important to have leadership buy into this program, and they definitely have,” Stefanik said.
Republicans have also pointed to GOP women taking on more leadership roles as a sign of a changing culture, citing Republican National Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, NRCC Executive Director Parker Poling and House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.). “It did take breaking down some barriers and questioning the status quo,” Stefanik said. “Now we are reaping the benefits of having that aggressive recruitment effort, but also the candidate development and candidate fundraising piece.”
And Republicans are celebrating the geographical diversity of this cycle’s candidates. “It’s not even pockets, it’s all across the country, and that’s what’s so exciting,” said Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), the NRCC’s 2020 recruitment chair. “I wouldn’t say there’s been a certain focus in a certain part of the country. It’s from the South to the Midwest to the East Coast.”
Republican Kat Cammack, who is running to replace her former boss, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), in Florida’s 3rd District, said she is hoping to change the face of the South’s representation in the House.
“I think that our campaign and our candidacy really represents an opportunity for conservative women, particularly conservative women in the South,” Cammack said.
Republicans are optimistic about the surging number of GOP women running in House races, but they still face an uphill climb to get back the majority in the lower chamber.
The GOP must win a net of 17 seats to flip the House while also having to take into account situations including redistricting in North Carolina, which will endanger two GOP-held seats, as well as the retirement of Texas Rep. Will Hurd (R), whose seat Democrats are favored to take. Democrats tend to have an advantage with female voters in general. Fifty-nine percent of women said they supported a Democratic House candidate in 2018, according to CNN exit polling.
And while President Trump has proven to be a polarizing figure among American women, a number of Republican candidates say they are optimistic about having the president on their side, despite his underwhelming approval rating. “It’s a case-by-case situation,” a spokeswoman for Winning for Women said. “There are districts where Trump is going to be a huge value add, and there are districts where he might not be as much.”
Makki, who is running in bellwether Pinellas County in Florida, said she is thrilled at the prospect of Trump spending time in her district.
“He’s going to spend a lot of time here, and I can’t tell you how excited people are to have him here,” she said.