As the 2018 midterms draw nearer, Republicans in Congress are facing serious headwinds from a relatively unpopular president, a Democratic base that is especially energized, and a growing number of retirements from incumbent members. With roughly two dozen House members retiring outright and around another dozen leaving the chamber to pursue other offices, the challenge facing Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans is daunting.
At the same time, there is a great deal of focus on the work that has been done recruiting female candidates to take the plunge and run for office. TIME Magazine recently devoted a cover story to the wave of women who are putting their names on the ballot this year. An analysis by Dr. Kelly Dittmar of the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics found that in November 2017, over 350 women had announced a bid for Congress, and this was “about double the number of women House candidates at this time in 2015, and more than double in elections 2014 and 2012.”
The cruel irony of this political moment where so much attention is being paid to the importance of elevating women to office is that it is entirely possible Republicans will end 2018 with fewerRepublican women in the House than they started with.
There are currently 84 women members of the House of Representatives, but despite Republicans being the majority party, only about a quarter of women in Congress are Republican. Of the 22 Republican women in Congress, a half-dozen are not running for re-election to the House (though some are seeking higher office). Of the remaining 16, six are running in a race that the Cook Political Report flags as competitive, leaving only ten in relatively safe position.
Dave Wasserman, House Editor of the Cook Political Report, tells me: “Over the years, many Republican groups have made concerted efforts to recruit and field more women for Congress – and they’ve made progress, though at a slower pace than Democrats. This year, Republicans are squarely focused on saving their majority, and it just so happens that Republican women represent some of the most vulnerable seats. As a result, the gender gap in the House could widen in 2018.”
Even if every Republican woman in the House seeking re-election holds her seat – a difficult feat in a challenging year – Republicans would still need to elect six new women to the House just to break even.
Where would those women come from? “We need women to run for office, we need to recruit women to run for office, and women need to win these competitive primaries,” says former RNC Chief of Staff Mike Shields, founder of Convergence Media who has helped Republican women like Rep. Karen Handel win tough races.