Even after the "Year of the Woman," Republican women remain underrepresented

By McKenna Donegan on October 17, 2019

"It’s hard to not get excited about all of the young, diverse Republican women running in 2020. If the United States is ever going to achieve gender parity, it is necessary for more Republican women to get elected. However, there are obstacles standing in the way of those women becoming leaders in this country. Embracing recruitment targets and challenging PACs to set goals for the totals that they give to female candidates would alleviate the hurdles that these women face while running for office. Advancing these reforms is a key step in advancing women’s representation in government."

RepresentWomen’s 2019 Gender Parity Index highlights that despite historic gains in 2018, the United States is still less than halfway to achieving gender parity. Only 29% of state legislature seats are held by women, and women make up only 24% of members of Congress. These statistics become even more alarming when you break it down by partisanship. Of the 127 women serving in the 116th Congress, 106 members (83%) are Democrats, and a mere 21 members (17%) are Republicans. In the 2018 GPI, of the 106 women serving in the 115th Congress only 26% were Republican women. A year earlier in 2017, only 25% of the 104 women in Congress were Republican. The 2018 midterms put a spotlight on the lack of Republican women in office, but this is not a new problem. So what does this mean for 2020?

Each year the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University fields thousands of calls from women interested in running for office. But 2019 has been different. This year a lot of these calls have come from Republican women. According to Patti Russo, the Executive Director of the Women’s Campaign School, they have received triple the number of applications that they did in 2018. Representative Elise Stefanik and Rebecca Schuller, Executive Director of Winning for Women, have echoed these remarks. “The biggest difference this year is candidates are getting in earlier”. The Center for American Women and Politics noted that roughly 25 Republican women have already started running or have been mentioned as serious candidates in open seat races or as challengers to Democratic incumbents in 2020. The midterms were dismal for Republican women, but instead of remaining on the sidelines this election cycle they have decided to join the race.

Moreover, the Republican women who have decided to run for office in 2020 are a diverse group. Valerie Ramirez Mukherjee, a Mexican American from Illinois, is an investment manager who is concerned about climate change and supports abortion rights. Other women like Young Kim, a Korean American, and Maria Elvira Salazar, a Cuban American, are trying to shed the GOP of its old, white image. These young, diverse female Republican candidates are attracting a lot of attention and many are energized at the prospect of these new faces running on the Republican ticket. But is Republican women simply running going to be enough?

In terms of PAC funding, Republican women lag far behind Democratic women. In 2018, EMILY’s List spent $24.4 million to back pro-choice female Democratic candidates. On the other hand, VIEW PAC has spent $6.5 million to elect Repubican women candidates since its creation more than 20 years ago. Not only do Republican women have to fight to raise enough money, they have to grapple with a lack of party support. Rosemary Becchi of New Jersey is currently running for a House seat that was won by a Democrat in 2018. However when Becchi met with a party official at the National Republican Congressional Committee, she was asked not to run. “One of the first things they said to me was, ‘Why don’t you run in a different district?’”. Even if Republican women are signing up in droves to run for office in 2020, a lack of party support might spell the end for their candidacy. For instance, VIEW PAC, Winning for Women and all 13 Republican women in the House came together to support Joan Perry, a doctor running in a special election for an open seat in North Carolina. Perry advanced through the primary, but lost in the runoff election. Many attribute this loss to the fact that she received financial support from just four Republican men in the House. The Republican Party is struggling to come to terms with the fact that if they want to elect more women, they are going to have to elect fewer men.

It’s hard to not get excited about all of the young, diverse Republican women running in 2020. If the United States is ever going to achieve gender parity, it is necessary for more Republican women to get elected. However, there are obstacles standing in the way of those women becoming leaders in this country. Embracing recruitment targets and challenging PACs to set goals for the totals that they give to female candidates would alleviate the hurdles that these women face while running for office. Advancing these reforms is a key step in advancing women’s representation in government.

Progress towards parity in the United States has been glacially slow. Even in 2019, most states are less than halfway to achieving gender parity. “Gender Parity Index: State Grades,” RepresentWomen (2019).

McKenna Donegan is a junior at Siena College from Syracuse, New York. This fall she is participating in American University’s Washington Semester Program. McKenna joined the RepresentWomen team as a research intern in early September, and is excited to work towards a world where women are represented in elected office and leadership positions.

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