House Republicans won't dramatically increase the number of women in their chamber next year, but a handful of likely freshmen could help the GOP as it struggles to reach out to female and minority voters.
Among them, Mia Love of Utah, who is poised to become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, and Elise Stefanik of New York, a self-described “millennial” who at 30 is slated to become the youngest woman ever to serve in either chamber.
Retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally, the first U.S. female pilot to fly in combat, is facing stiff headwinds in her race against Rep. Ron BarberRonald (Ron) Sylvester BarberKavanaugh nomination a make or break moment to repeal Citizens United Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 Principles and actions mean more than Jeff Flake’s words MORE (D-Ariz.), but she too could join the freshman class if Republicans keep up the momentum.
Only 19 of the current 233 House Republicans are women; 17 of them will be returning in the next Congress. So GOP leaders have been working overtime to try to boost their ranks — not only to diversify their caucus but also blunt Democrats’ blistering charges that the GOP is waging a “war on women.”
Rising female stars like Love and Stefanik can help change the public perception — and the narrative — that the Grand Old Party is a homogeneous group of old, white guys. Even if fewer than one in 10 Republican lawmakers is a woman.
“Yes, messengers are important, and having a broad spectrum of members who represent that background — youth, women, Hispanics, every walk of life — is very important,” House GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersDemocrats to target Section 230 in Haugen hearing Washington redistricting panel reaches late agreement on new lines McMorris Rodgers worried broadband funding will miss mark without new maps MORE (Wash.), a mother of three and the No. 4 Republican in leadership, told The Hill in a phone interview. “And we do, we just need to keep building on it.”
After women voters largely abandoned the GOP in 2012, Republicans launched Project Growing Republican Opportunities for Women, a program to recruit and groom more conservative women to run for office. Love, Stefanik and McSally were among 10 female standouts tapped to receive extra fundraising help and candidate training through the program, which is led by Reps. Ann Wagner (Mo.) and Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackBottom line Overnight Health Care: Anti-abortion Democrats take heat from party | More states sue Purdue over opioid epidemic | 1 in 4 in poll say high costs led them to skip medical care Lamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee MORE (Tenn.).
But the program also helped incumbent male Republicans running against Democratic female challengers to inoculate themselves from “war on women” attacks. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Iowa), for example, was encouraged to hold women-focused roundtables.
Love, the former mayor of Sarasota Springs, is no stranger to the national stage. Two years ago, the Utah Republican fell just 768 votes short of unseating Democratic Rep. Jim MathesonJames (Jim) David MathesonMcAdams concedes to Owens in competitive Utah district Trump EPA eases standards for coal ash disposal Utah redistricting reform measure likely to qualify for ballot MORE. Presidential nominee Mitt Romney also selected her, a fellow Mormon, to speak at the 2012 Republican National Convention. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Love, 38, is now a virtual lock in the conservative district, with Matheson retiring.
Someone else Republicans can rely on to stay on message is Stefanik. While she just turned 30, she’s a Harvard-educated, George W. Bush White House veteran who later worked as a Republican National Committee operative and headed vice presidential nominee Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE’s debate prep team during the 2012 presidential campaign.
In a phone interview from upstate New York, Stefanik stuck to her talking points. She said she hopes any national attention she receives can be used to shine a spotlight on jobs and hardworking families of New York's 21st District. Specifically, she wants a seat on the Armed Services Committee so she can protect Fort Drum, an Army installation that’s home to 13,000 personnel.
But she’s also not afraid to discuss her youth, and had no problem referring to herself as a “millennial.”
“Broadly, this election cycle is a testament to the fact that people are looking for new types of candidates. The fact that I’m young, initially some skeptics have raised eyebrows, but it’s really turned into a strength over the course of this campaign,” Stefanik said from Ogdensburg, which sits on New York’s northern border with Canada. Voters of all political stripes are backing her “because they are looking for a breath of fresh air, new blood, a new generation of leadership.”
She’s on track to defeat Democratic filmmaker Aaron Woolf and become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and the youngest current lawmaker in either chamber — something she called “a great additional crack in the glass ceiling so that more young women would be willing to step up to the plate.”
Still, even with all of the extra recruitment efforts, the number of GOP women serving in the 114th Congress won’t be breaking any records. In 2010, voters elected 24 GOP women in the House; a decade ago, 25 GOP women were elected. Along with Love and Stefanik, California state Sen. Mimi Walters is likely headed to Washington where she’ll succeed retiring Rep. John Campbell, who represents a conservative swath of Orange County. And the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) just this week went up with ads aiding Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist and Army veteran who’s trying to unseat Rep. Dave Loebsack (D) in Iowa's 2nd District.
But other so-called “Young Guns” like New Hampshire’s Marilinda Garcia and Arizona’s Wendy Rogers, who’ve been promoted by Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFeehery: The next Republican wave is coming Rift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE and NRCC Chairman Greg Walden, have seen their campaigns stumble. Rogers is a longshot to defeat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), but Garcia could still pull an upset over Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.).
“All of our women are running phenomenal campaigns and we hope that they all get to the finish line on Nov. 4,” said NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek.
Republicans are pointing to other bright spots: An Associated Press-GfK poll this week showed that 44 percent of women want Republicans in charge of Congress, while 42 percent favor Democrats. Four out of the five female governors are Republican. And Rep. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall White House looks to rein in gas prices ahead of busy travel season MORE (R-W.Va.) appears to be pulling away in her Senate race to succeed longtime Democratic Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerHumorless politics a sad sign of our times Bottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease MORE. At a recent rally in the coal town of Beckley, a GOP county chairman suggested the sky’s the limit for Capito, the daughter of a former governor.
“I’m looking forward to one of these days her being speaker,” the party chairman said. “Majority leader!” someone in the crowd corrected him. “Or vice president, then she could be president of the Senate,” another supporter chimed in.
In the House, McMorris Rodgers said, the GOP will grow its female ranks by building out its farm team and encouraging more women to run in statehouses across the country. But it’s also about giving congressional candidates the support and fundraising they need to run an effective campaign.
Last month, the chairwoman hosted a “Republicans Inspiring Success & Empowerment” or RISE fundraiser blocks from the Capitol for 10 GOP female candidates, including Love, Stefanik and McSally. The event pulled in $600,000. And McMorris Rodgers has traveled the country this fall hosting GOP women rallies and roundtables, including events in San Antonio, Lexington, Ky., and Columbus, Ohio.
“Republicans are winning women on the generic ballot," McMorris Rodgers said, "and I think it’s highlighting the work that we’re doing and the fact that Republicans are talking about solutions and ideas that will help women across the country."