Women did well on Nov. 3, most notably Republican women. That may surprise you, and it shouldn’t.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics, Republican women “set a new record for non-incumbent U.S. House winners.” So far, 13 newly elected Republican women are headed to the House, and they could be joined by up to nine more non-incumbent Republican women whose races remained undecided the day after the election.
The total number of women who will be seated in the 117th Congress also set a new record with at least 131 (100 Democratic, 31 Republican). That tally could rise higher, with CAWP noting that 25 congressional races featuring women candidates were still too close to call when it reported these statistics.
But it’s the success of Republican women in House races that is catching nationwide attention, with CNN giving a rundown of how many not only won but flipped seats. While the numbers are impressive, CAWP Director Debbie Walsh told the New York Times: “These are important gains. They need to be celebrated; they need to be acknowledged…But women are still very underrepresented on the Republican side.”
Walsh and other observers agree that the gains reflect the increasing number of women running for office from both parties. What I find particularly interesting, is that it also shows how the GOP is pursuing a more conscious effort toward gender parity.
I used to hear from frustrated Republican women that their party wasn’t doing enough to help recruit and elect more women. They often ran into concerns that the targeted outreach to women raised the specter of identity politics. I also think good old misogyny played a role.
Misogyny, of course, isn’t proprietary to the Republicans. Women in the Democratic Partly also recognized the huge gap in political parity and have worked hard to get more women in office, helped tremendously by the uber-successful Emily’s List, founded in 1985.
Organizations created to recruit and elect more women have proliferated and deserve a lot of credit for the number of women running for and winning office this year. Some are nonpartisan like SheShouldRun, RunningStart, VoteRunLead, and IgniteNational, some focus on electing progressive Black women like Higher Heights for America and women of color like She the People, and there is a growing number targeting conservative women. These sometimes receive less attention, but the Nov. 3 results show that they deserve more credit and attention.
Along with the venerable National Federation of Republican Women, here are a few of the newer groups that have sprung up in the past two decades, often driven by younger Republican women.
- RightNOW Women PAC was launched in 2014 and describes itself as “a volunteer organization dedicated to helping elect qualified Republican women to federal office. We support women candidates from all walks of life who share common beliefs in economic growth, individual responsibility, a strong national defense, access to the best education, and quality healthcare at a reasonable cost.”
- Winning For Women “is dedicated to identifying and creating paths forward for women leaders who share core values of economic freedom and strong national security. Winning For Women is building an infrastructure that will allow right-of-center women leaders to succeed in their pursuit of leadership opportunities, and working to advance free-market principles and a strong national defense.”
- Maggie’s List, named for Republican U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith, was created in 2010 “to raise awareness and funds to increase the number of conservative women elected to federal public office.”
- VIEW PAC stands for Value In Electing Women Political Action Committee and “strives to support credible, electable Republican women running for federal office and encourages others to do the same.” It says that since its founding in 1997, “VIEW PAC has directly contributed and helped to raise over $8,500,000 for Republican women running for Congress.” (VIEW has supported both Washington Reps. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler)
Despite the success of all these organizations and more in recruiting, training and helping fund more women candidates, let’s remember that political parity of the genders still is a distant goal. As CAWP’s statistics show, women are only 23.2 percent of current House members and will be at least 24.4% of all members of the U.S. House when the new Congress is seated. A hundred years after women won the vote, holding less than a fourth of the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives simply is not good enough.