2020 can be the year of the Republican woman — but it will take work

A century ago this month, Republican majorities in the U.S. House and Senate secured passage of the 19th Amendment, setting the stage for women to gain the right to vote. Today, Republicans must once again fight to empower women in the political process—but this time, inside our own party. 

GOP women — and there are many — want to serve in elected office. But, they face obstacles not seen by their male peers, or even their female peers on the left. The result is Republican representation that, at least in terms of gender, falls painfully short of reflecting the American public. 

While slightly more than half of the U.S. population is female, Republican representation in Congress is 92 percent male. In the U.S. House, the number of GOP congresswomen is at a 25-year low, having declined from 22 to 13 following the midterms. 

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And let’s be clear: this isn’t for a lack of trying. One hundred twenty GOP women ran for the House in 2018. So what happened to them? And what can we do to turn the tables in 2020? 

The organizations I lead, Winning For Women and WFW Action Fund, are working hard to provide answers. And WFW Action Fund is setting the goal of “20 in ’20” — electing 20 Republican women to the U.S. House next year.

We believe the key is getting involved in races early. Many Republican women launch campaigns with little to no financial backing or institutional support, and struggle to gain traction. Without an early burst of momentum, they soon fade into obscurity or are dismissed as a lost cause. In fact, only 34 percent of non-incumbent Republican women who ran for House seats in 2018 made it out of the primaries.

Winning For Women wants to be a war chest for right-of-center women in primaries. That’s why we recently created a super-PAC, WFW Action Fund, that is already identifying qualified Republican women and spending big, including two six figure independent expenditures on behalf of Dr. Joan Perry in North Carolina’s 3rd District election. And there is much more to come.

But cash is not the only answer. We need to provide A to Z support, with a particular focus on the opportunities and challenges that are unique to GOP women.

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For example, the steady media attention that seems to come easily to many Democratic women proves elusive for Republicans—even when their stories are highly deserving, like those of Lea Marquez Peterson in Arizona and Young Kim in California last year. With enough skilled press engagement and messaging strategy, it’s possible to overcome media biases and attract the game-changing coverage that can propel a campaign to the next level.

Another unique challenge facing female Republicans is intense resistance from the very groups that paint themselves as champions of women. Left leaning EMILY’s List, for example, recently put out its list of “targets” for 2020, which included five of the 13 Republican women in the House and two in the Senate. Republican women are being disproportionately targeted, and a united voice for them can help expose and counter these hypocritical attacks.

None of this means it will be easy. Running for office for the first time as a woman can feel like a trust fall. But prospective candidates should take heart: More than ever before, the Republican Party is there to catch and lift you up.

Party leadership at the highest levels is recognizing the importance of recruiting and supporting more female leaders. And this includes listening to the women who themselves serve in these leadership roles, like Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielRNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Paul dismisses Bevin loss, touts 'red wave' in other Kentucky races Trump and his allies downplay GOP loss in Kentucky governor's race MORE (a woman) or National Republican Congressional Committee Executive Director Parker Poling (also a woman).

These leaders understand that women aren’t just important to the GOP politically and electorally. They understand that all Americans deserve a government that speaks to them. That’s why the Republican Party stood up 100 years ago to demand that women be given the right to vote. 

While the 19th Amendment may have passed Congress a century ago, it wasn’t enacted until the following year. Meaning next year — 2020 — marks the centennial. What better time for Republican women to stand up and claim a leadership role in our party’s future? 

It can happen. 2020 can be the year of the Republican woman. But first, all Republicans must get to work. 

Rebecca Schuller is executive director of Winning For Women and WFW Action Fund.