GOP MEMBER, THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
At 43 and in her fourth term in Congress, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) is the top-ranking woman in the male-dominated House Republican Conference. She also holds the distinction of being the first member of Congress in history to give birth twice while in office.
Now she’s gunning for the chairmanship of the conference, a post that would make her one of the party’s most visible spokeswomen.
A prominent leadership spot is far from where McMorris Rodgers thought she would be when she began helping out a family friend’s campaign as her first job out of college.
“I never imagined myself as being an elected official,” she said in an interview. “I always thought I would work behind the scenes.”
McMorris Rodgers was appointed to her first political office in Washington state in 1995, and served in the state Legislature until she won a House seat in 2004. She describes her start as getting in “the backdoor,” and she says women often wait for someone to tap them on the shoulder instead of “stepping up” on their own and running for public office.
“As more women run and run successfully and see others doing it, it challenges them to think, ‘OK, that’s something that I can do, too,’ ” she said.
In the House, McMorris Rodgers has been responsible for rebutting Democratic charges that Republicans have engaged in a “war on women.” She is quick to point out that in 2010, Republicans won the women’s vote for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president.
But as polls show a gender gap re-emerging, she says the GOP should stick to bread-and-butter economic issues and avoid being drawn into the social debates that she says Democrats are using to “distract” voters.
“For the Republicans, we need to keep talking to women in terms of where they are in their daily lives,” McMorris Rodgers said.
— Russell Berman