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  • Sarah Chamberlain

Female candidates can build on momentum from Election Day 2020

Lost amid the post-Election rancor was an important fact: Women – particularly Republican women – gained ground in the downstream races.

There are 142 women serving in the 117th Congress, up from a then-record 127 serving on Election Day 2020. The entire net gain came from Republican women, who now have 37 in Congress, compared with 22 on Election Day 2020, according to data compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

I was particularly pleased that a record-setting 18 non-incumbent Republican women won House seats in 2020, compared with only one in 2018, giving the party 29 Republican women in the House, compared with 13 two years ago. In addition, nine GOP women flipped seats from the Democrat column in eight states, with a 10th provisionally seated.

Women from both parties now hold 94 statewide seats, compared with 90 before Election Day.

As happy as I am with the gains Republican women made, women in general still make up only a quarter of the 535 seats in the House and the Senate.

So where do we go from here?

Much of the speculation going into Election Day focused on white suburban women, although the definition of that group remains squishy. Former President Trump won handily among white women without college degrees, but President Biden won white women with college degrees by a similar margin. That will be a key battleground area across the country over the next 18 months.

But University of Delaware Associate Professor Erin Cassese believes the real story was more about “Black women’s activism, Black women’s organizing.”

In Georgia, Stacey Abrams and others led efforts that resulted in more than 800,000 new voter registrations, with Abrams telling NPR that 45% of those new voters were under the age of 30 and just under half were people of color.

What does that say? With Black women demonstrating they’re what CNBC described as the “Democratic Party’s most loyal voting group,” the Republican party needs to figure out how to attract more to our side as we navigate the Road to the 2022 Midterms.

There are now 51 women of color in Congress but only six of them are Republicans. Four are freshmen: Nicole Malliotakas of New York; Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida; and Michelle Steel and Young Kim of California. And two, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, were re-elected from Washington state and Puerto Rico, respectively. Of those 51 women of color, only three are Senators (and none are Republican). Both sides need to work on that.

The Republican Party is now turning its focus to restoring our majorities in the House and Senate, while Democrats are already focusing on protecting their thin margins. The party of the president loses on average 25 House seats during the midterms, according to Gallup. We want to build on the record number of female Republican candidates we had at the start of the last election cycle -- 227 filed to run for House seats and 23 for the Senate.

Much of the credit for our success in drafting a more diverse slate of candidates goes to Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), a Republican Main Street Partnership member. Some of these candidates scored key upsets, while others defeated well-funded Democratic challengers in what many considered at-risk seats.

While I’m excited by the gains and pleased by the New York Times’ description of the “ascendant night for Congressional Republicans,” you can’t ignore the fact that we’re making up for recent losses, particularly in 2018. We need to maintain the momentum AND find a way to reverse the trend of both parties electing candidates from the Far Left and Far Right, which we believe is a formula for continued gridlock and dysfunction. We are looking for moderates who are willing to cross the aisle and find solutions to the historic challenges that face us.

We also need to think more about why women vote and for whom. Notre Dame Political Science Professor Christina Wolbrecht told the Washington Post that the causes of the gender gap are rarely the issues that are most often associated with women voters, such as abortion rights and sexual harassment. She believes that women are more likely than men to favor government involvement in health care and education, for example. To capture more of the women’s vote, Republican candidates need to be prepared to address these issues directly.

One more thing: Once women are in office, we’re performing well.

The Washington Post published an op-ed in January by researchers from Duke University and the University of California, Irvine, that says state and federal studies indicate that women are more active and productive than their male counterparts on a variety of policy-related activities. They sponsor more legislation and are more effective at moving bills through the legislative process and bringing more money to their districts. And the authors’ own proprietary research says women stand out in constituent service, based on inquiries they made to state legislators and the responses they received.

As candidates, legislators, and voters, women—including women of color—hold the future of the Republican party in their hands. We can either embrace their participation and recapture majorities in the House and Senate or we can turn away and risk finishing perennially in second place.

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