Republican women break ballot records

BRIAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 21st of July, 2020.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Brian Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. 

First up, women running for office. 

Two years ago, the Democratic Party won control of the U-S House of Representatives, in a big way. The party flipped 40 seats. That’s twelve more than Democrats needed to take the majority. 

Many of the candidates who led this so-called “blue wave” were women. Democrats elected a record 89 women to the House. Republicans…just 13.

BASHAM: But 20-20 could look a lot different for conservative women in the House. WORLD’s Sarah Schweinsberg reports.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: After the 20-18 midterms, Republican leaders in the House began strategizing. They needed to flip 17 seats to take back the Speaker’s gavel. 

Party leaders tapped Parker Poling to head the National Republican Congressional Committee. It’s in charge of increasing the number of Republicans in the House. 

Poling started by identifying the districts most likely to turn red. 

POLING: Ultimately, we started the cycle with 55 targeted races.

Then the committee went to work recruiting a more diverse set of candidates. Poling says the party wants a delegation that more fully represents its demographics: that especially includes women. 

Poling: Recruiting more women, more veterans, more people of color, making sure that they are getting exposure to, you know, the folks in DC, the donors and the small dollar donor community.

More than 200 Republican women filed to run for the House this year. That’s up 86 percent from two years ago. And a record number of these women are winning their primaries. 

Poling: We’re actually at 63 Republican nominees at the moment in all of our seats and that is a record. Our previous record was 53 and that was set in 2004. And we still have a number of primaries and conventions yet to go. 

About a third of these winners are also women of color. 

Debbie Walsh directs the bipartisan Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. She says the surge in women running for office is partly in response to 20-18. 

Walsh: Republican women were a bit inspired by what they saw in 2018. And thought, Oh, you know, let maybe we can do that too.

Fundraising for conservative women has also gotten easier. Walsh says there are now more campaign resources available outside of traditional party structures. 

Walsh: You do have groups now like Winning for Women, VIEW PAC, which is Value in Electing Women PAC, Maggie’s list, there are more and more groups out there that are supporting conservative women.

While there are a record number of Republican women running for the House, many of them are in up-hill races. The Center for American Women and Politics’ Debbie Walsh says half of the G-O-P women primary winners are in strong Blue districts. 

Walsh: So 32 right off the bat are really unlikely to win. Then you’ve got eight who are in likely or lean democratic… You’ve got seven who are in toss up races. Then a total of two who are either in likely lean republican or solid Republican. 

Florida’s 13th district is one of those competitive races. Democrat Charlie Crist currently represents the Tampa-area district that’s traditionally been Republican. 

Five Republicans are racing to challenge him. Four of those are women. One of those is businesswoman and community activist Sheila Griffin. 

Griffin: They call me the dark horse on my campaign, because I’m also the underfunded candidate, and I’m not the candidate that anyone expected to even make it past qualifying 

Griffin says black Americans and women are mostly being represented by Democrats. She wants to change that. 

Griffin: We know we have voices that are being overshadowed and in particular by those who are new to politics that are Democrats that have been leading the mantra inside of Congress that cannot be tolerated. 

But Griffin says Republicans shouldn’t vote for women or people of color just to make the party’s representation more diverse. Voters should still vote for a candidate’s ideas. 

Griffin: We are not running because we are women. We are not running because we are black. We are running for great policies and great initiatives to change the dynamics of our culture, and our nation.

On the Senate side, the political situation for Republican women is not as bright. Right now, the Senate G-O-P has a record nine women in office. Out of those, four face very competitive re-election bids.

But party leaders note there are still bright spots. In Wyoming, two women are running to replace retiring Republican Senator Mike Enzi. Attorney and businesswoman Donna Rice is one of them. 

Besides her pro-Trump and small business friendly polices, Rice says, as a woman, she can bring something different to the table. 

Rice: I see in politics these days, you know, such vitriol and animosity. I think a woman’s voice in that mix, is a really powerful connector, if you will. We just bring something into that negotiating process…that really helps… move that along in a positive way.

Nineteen states haven’t had their primaries yet. Wyoming’s and Florida’s are still a month away. 

Debbie Walsh at the Center for American Women and Politics says through the primaries, most Republican women have closely supported President Trump. But to win elections in purple districts, they may have to change their tune.  

Walsh: So, in the general election, the question is for those women who are running in, for instance, the toss up districts, will they… have to move the way candidates do have to move closer to the center in order to win.

Even if GOP women don’t end up winning a record number of House seats or holding their numbers in the Senate, National Republican Congressional Committee’s Park Poling says more women will show up again in 20-22. 

Poling: I don’t see any reason why we should stop now with the amount of energy and enthusiasm that we have for Republican women candidates. I predict that this is a trend that’s going to continue to grow.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

Republican State Rep. Ashley Hinson watches as House Speaker Pat Grassley takes the oath of office during the opening day of the Iowa Legislature. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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