National Republicans Face Crisis as Women Flee Party
While 2020 will feature a highly contested race for President of the United States, it will also mark 100 years since the 19th Amendment was ratified, ensuring the right of women to vote in state and federal elections. Even as the United States Congress has more women among its ranks than at any other time in history, the Republican Party has hit a new low in representation.
Since Jeanette Rankin was first elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1916, over 300 women have served as members. As of January 2019, 102 women are serving as representatives and four are territorial, non-voting delegates. Of those 106, only 15 (including delegates from Puerto Rico and American Samoa) are Republicans, while all the rest are Democrats. Of those 15, two have already announced their plans to retire, while a third eyes a run for governor, and a fourth is considering a bid for the US Senate.
Historically this wasn’t always the case. Rankin, who was elected as a Republican, didn’t run for re-election in 1918. Four other women were elected after her, over the course of nearly ten years, before the first female Democrat, Mary Norton, was elected in 1925. Until the election of Franklin Roosevelt, nearly twice as many female members of the US House were Republicans versus Democrats. While Democrats started to keep pace, the number of Republicans and Democrats was fairly even until the 1990s, when Democrats began to far outpace Republicans in electing women to the House.
So, what’s happening? Part of the answer is, without a doubt, Donald Trump. A Hill-HarrisX survey from early June reported 62% of female registered voters said they were unlikely to support his bid for a second term. With his standing so low among female voters, pressure is certainly being put on female candidates to disown him, which can be tough for those running as Republicans.
When former Representative Mia Love (R-UT) lost last year, Trump took to television to mock her and suggest her lack of support for him cost her her seat. Love was the first and, to date, only African-American Republican woman to serve in Congress.
Retirements haven’t helped either. As previously mentioned, as many as a quarter of female Republican House members may be on their way out in 2021. In 2018, six Republican women called it quits and another five were defeated by Democratic challengers.
Another factor seems to be a lack of enthusiasm among Republican voters for female candidates. In two special elections in North Carolina this year, female candidates failed to make the cut. Leigh Brown and three other women were among a nine-candidate field for a special election in North Carolina’s 9th District. She came in fourth, while the other women all failed to earn more than 1,000 votes. In the 3rd District, Dr. Joan Perry made it to the run-off, but came up nearly 20-points short to eventual nominee Gregory Murphy. Even an endorsement from the widow of the seat’s previous occupant couldn’t get Perry over the finish line.
As primary elections take shape across the country next year, time will tell if this is a continuing trend or one that will begin to shift. One bright spot for West Virginia last year, the only new, female Republican elected was Carol Miller of the Third District.
H. S. Leigh Koonce is a sixth-generation West Virginian. He writes from Jefferson County.