House Republicans work to close gender gap despite Trump headwinds

More than that, though, the GOP — which has long shunned identity politics, at least when it comes to gender — has experienced a real attitude and cultural shift around electing more women to Congress, according to interviews with over a dozen lawmakers, candidates, operatives and aides. Women are stepping up to run, citing their gender as an asset and answering the siren sounded by party leaders — even as President Donald Trump remains divisive among women of both parties.

“The 2018 cycle was a motivating factor,” said retiring Rep. Susan Brooks (Ind.), one of just 13 Republican women in the House and head of recruitment efforts for the party’s campaign arm. “Even though we had been recruiting and helping women candidates, we realized we did need to shift some strategy and do far more.”

And so far, the initiative has paid off: 227 Republican women filed to run for the House this cycle and 94 of them won primaries, shattering past records on both fronts. Previously, the highest number of Republican women to run for the House was 130, while the highest number of GOP women to win primaries was 53, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

“I’m honored and proud to help change the discussion,” said Diana Harshbarger, a pharmacist who is almost certainly joining Congress next year after beating out several male primary opponents in a deep red seat in Tennessee. “Conservative Republican women are alive and well and I hope I can be an inspiration.”

But the big test will come in November, when the House GOP is once again facing tough political headwinds. And with Trump at the top of the ticket, Republicans fear that the same suburban revolt that wiped out 10 of the House GOP’s women last cycle — and delivered the majority to Democrats — could bring another soul-crushing disappointment for House Republicans, despite their successful recruitment and primary efforts.

And making things more precarious is that many of the GOP’s top female recruits are running in some of the toughest races in the country, meaning that even if Republicans make gains in these districts, they could be easily erased the following cycle.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy even acknowledged that the party’s biggest hurdle is still pushing Republican women through primaries in ruby red seats that will guarantee their entry — and long-term careers — in Congress.

“The challenge is when you start getting women and minorities just in the swing seats,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in an interview. “I want people to be in leadership. So going into these safer seats, I’ve worked hard to provide that opportunity as well.”

Republicans are guaranteed to add at least five new women to their conference next year, thanks to primary victories by female candidates in deep red seats, including Marjorie Taylor Green, a controversial nominee in Georgia who has espoused racist views. That gives Republican much needed wiggle room in the numbers game.

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