By Melanie Zanona
August 6, 2021
(CNN)For House Republicans, their path back to power could rest on the backs of GOP women.After a historic number of Republican women were elected to the House in 2020 — including in some of the most competitive races in the country — the party sees a recipe for electoral success and is now doubling down on that same strategy in the battle for the House next year.What has emerged among party leaders, operatives and outside groups is a two-pronged approach: retain their current Republican women in critical swing seats and recruit additional strong female candidates to run in key battleground districts that they hope to flip next year.
And so far, there are signs of that strategy bearing out: A record-breaking number of Republican women have already filed to run for office, while some of the GOP’s top fundraisers this year have been freshmen Republican women.
“There are several roads to taking back the House, but I think one road contains a lot of Republican women on it,” said freshman Rep. Young Kim, a California Republican who flipped a blue seat in Orange County last year. “Without a doubt, getting more GOP women elected to join the Republican conference is critically important.”
Republicans — who have history and redistricting on their side — only need to flip five seats to seize back the House. And party operatives can point to at least six competitive races where female GOP candidates have already decided to jump in, meaning Republicans could theoretically win back the majority with women alone and add to their historic ranks.
But that would mean holding on to every single female incumbent, which will be no easy feat. The GOP women who were responsible for flipping 11 out of 15 seats last cycle will be locked in some of the toughest — and most expensive — contests in the country, and Democrats are determined to take them on.
“Republican women are now our not-so-secret, secret weapon,” said Olivia Perez-Cuba, spokeswoman for Winning for Women, a super PAC dedicated solely to electing GOP women. “And in order to keep winning — and it’s all about electoral success at the end of the day — then we need to find and support qualified women.”
Targeting top recruits
While Republicans are still lagging behind their Democratic counterparts in closing the gender gap, there was a real attitude and cultural shift inside the GOP after their female ranks were nearly decimated in 2018.
Now, after Republicans experienced their own “Year of the Woman” in 2020, a record-breaking number of female candidates have been inspired — and in some cases, directly recruited — to run for office. So far, 155 Republican women have filed to run, compared to 60 at this point in 2019 — a new record for the party.
“We got started last cycle. We had some success. Now we have to build off that success,” Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters at a recent briefing. “I anticipate that we’re going to set a new record this time, just like we did last time, because we’re going to continue to add to the talent pool of women that we’ve attracted to the House.”
GOP operatives point to several top recruits with sparkling resumes whom they think could have a strong shot at flipping seats currently held by Democrats. That includes Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, a small business owner in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley; Jen Kiggans, a former Navy pilot and nurse practitioner and state lawmaker in Virginia; Lisa Scheller, the head of a manufacturing company in Pennsylvania; Amanda Adkins, the former chairwoman of the Kansas Republican Party; Esther Joy King, an Army lawyer from the Quad Cities in Illinois; and Meagan Hanson, a former state legislator in the Atlanta suburbs.
One key difference between the GOP’s abysmal 2018 and their historic 2020 was leadership’s willingness to finally play in primaries, which has long been the biggest barrier to getting more Republican women over the finish line. And leadership is making clear they once again plan to get involved early on in the cycle: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has already endorsed and sent money to Joy King, De La Cruz-Hernandez and Adkins; the California Republican has also hosted Joy King at various campaign events.
Not to mention, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York — who has been leading the charge inside the Republican party to elect more women — was elected to the No. 3 spot in GOP leadership this May, ensuring the issue gets even more attention.
But the party’s notable gains with women have been overshadowed at times by some of the most controversial -— and vocal — firebrands in the freshman class, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
Democrats plan to yoke the entire party, especially vulnerable members in tough districts, to Greene in the midterms.And while Stefanik was elevated to the conference chair position, it was only after the party booted Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, then the highest-ranking woman in the GOP, from her leadership job for repeatedly calling out former President Donald Trump’s lies about the election — something else Democrats will not let voters forget.
Keeping incumbents in seats
But for Republicans to flip the House, it will take more than just strong recruitment: They will also need to hold on to as many seats as they can.In an encouraging sign for the GOP, some of the party’s most vulnerable Republican women are stockpiling cash.
Freshman Reps. Michelle Steel of California, Ashley Hinson of Iowa and Nancy Mace of South Carolina all raked in mroe than $800,000 in the second quarter of this year, while Kim cleared $1 million during the same period — massive fundraising hauls for an off-year. And McCarthy has sent more than $100,000 to both Kim and Steel’s reelection campaigns this cycle.
Aside from padding their war chests, leaders have also sought to elevate their new class of GOP women by inviting them on border trips, tapping them for task forces and select committees, inviting them to weekly leadership pressers and using their bills for procedural votes.Hinson, widely viewed as a rising GOP star who could wind up in leadership one day, was even given a speaking slot during McCarthy’s major donor retreat in Jackson Hole.
And freshman Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, a former Telemundo host who won a key district in southern Florida, was among the crew of House Republicans who traveled with McCarthy to Miami on Thursday for a Cuba freedom rally.”Leadership has been very helpful in giving us opportunities to run with issues, to be leaders on issues, and to obtain a spotlight on issues, which sometimes you don’t see from leaders.
Sometimes they hog the spotlight for themselves,” said freshman Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, who flipped her Staten Island seat last year. “They’ve been wanting to promote the freshman class because they’re so proud of the freshman class.”
Some of the new Republican women have already been deployed on the campaign trail to stump for other candidates this year, including for the special elections for the Georgia Senate races at the start of this year.
And Kim and Steel, Korean immigrants who have been friends for decades, have formed a joint fundraising committee to boost their own campaigns and help elect other diverse Republicans.
“We can raise money, we can meet people, and we can actually promote other women,” Steel said. “So we’re gonna keep these seats, and we’re gonna recruit more, because the Republican Party has to be a big tent. All these diverse faces with unique backgrounds — this is actually reflecting our country.”
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