Is 2020 the Year of the Republican Woman? Women’s PAC support for Republican Women Candidates Suggests Otherwise


Women’s gains to Congress in the 2018 midterm elections were party specific. That year nearly three dozen new Democratic women, and just one Republican woman, were elected to the U.S. House. As Republican women’s membership in the House shrunk to 13, Representative Elise Stefanik (NY-21) promised to “play in primaries” to increase the number of Republican women running for Congress in 2020. Since then, much has been written about whether 2020 would be the year of the Republican woman as it had been for Democratic women in 2018. To be sure, the increased number of Republican women House candidates on the ballot this cycle bodes well for those within and outside of the party working to recruit and elect more Republican women. After all, women can’t win if they don’t run. Many of these candidates also hold credentials including distinguished military service, community activism, and previous officeholding that enhance their standing. A closer examination of the most competitive House elections along with existing campaign finance networks available to these women, however, reveals a more nuanced evaluation of Republican women running for Congress in 2020. While more Republican women are running for the House this year than in previous cycles, they are hampered by their status as challengers – further complicated for some by a late primary schedule – and the patchy campaign finance network available specifically to them to aid their fundraising efforts. Together, these challenges present significant roadblocks for Republican women candidates and the efforts to grow their ranks.

Republican women candidates running in the most competitive House elections in 2020 are primarily running as challengers.

The Cook Political Report, a non-partisan group that rates the competitiveness of federal elections, has identified 88 House seats as party competitive, with rankings that range from likely Democrat or Republican to pure toss-up for either party. Competitive races are those where the opposing party has the best chance of picking up seats and therefore where the parties and their campaign committees will direct their funds. A majority of these seats, 46 of them, are defended by Democrats with about half of those seats, 21 of them, held by Democratic women incumbents. Republicans are defending fewer seats in the House this cycle (43 of them), and just two Republican women incumbents are facing competitive re-election bids.   Below is a breakdown of how many of these districts have women from each party who are running as incumbents, challengers, or candidates for open seats in these most competitive races.

Women Candidates Still in the Running* in Competitive Congressional Districts

 

Incumbents

Open Seats

(13 total)

Challengers

Women Democrats

21 / 45 total Dems

10

27 candidates in

25 districts

(9 primaries TBD)*

 

Women Republicans

2 / 30 total GOPs

6 candidates

in 5 districts

(1 primary TBD)*

24 candidates in

20 districts

(7 primaries TBD)*

 

Sources: Cook Political Report (as of July 16, 2020); Center for American Women in Politics (totals compiled by author)

*Seventeen states have congressional primaries scheduled for August or early September and several districts feature Republican women running in contested primaries. One open seat district, MI-03, has two women running in the Republican primary; one Republican-held district, AZ-06, has three women running in the Democratic primary; and, three Democratic-held districts have two or more women running in the Republican primary – KS-3 has 3 Republican women challengers, and MI-11 and OK-5 each has two women running in the Republican primary.   The number of Republican women candidates running as challengers is therefore higher as several states where Republican women are running as candidates are doing so in contested primaries in districts that have not yet been held.


In 2020, a majority of women candidates from both parties are running as challengers. Typically, re-election rates for House incumbents are very high, and incumbents often retain a significant fundraising advantage over challengers because they can draw on better developed fundraising network that combines individual and party donors as well as industry-related political action committees (PACs). This is particularly true for the more than 20 women Democrats running for re-election. The 2018 class of women House Democrats has proven to be especially adept at fundraising, as will be described in greater detail below. Another missed opportunity for women Republicans is their limited numbers as candidates for competitive open seats where opportunities to pick up seats are greatest. Of the 13 competitive open seat contests this cycle as of mid-July, Republican women are still in the running in only five of these districts whereas Democratic women are running in 10 of them. Thus, for Republican women the path forward in 2020 rests squarely on the shoulders of challengers and candidates for open seats, which makes access to a strong campaign finance network a crucial need. 

Women Republicans have a smaller campaign finance network of women’s PACs available to them.

Members of the 116th Congress, including the 35 newly-elected women Democrats and one woman Republican, were sworn in on January 5, 2019. In March 2019, EMILY’s List, which exclusively bundles funds for endorsed pro-choice Democratic women candidates, announced its first round of endorsements and targets for 2020. EMILY’s List endorsed all of the Democratic women incumbents defending their seats in competitive races and put nearly 50 Republican House incumbents “on notice” that the group was targeting their seats. EMILY’s List has endorsed 16 of the 18 Democratic women challengers running in competitive races and 10 of the 11 Democratic women running for open seats in competitive districts. This one-two punch of early endorsements and support from the DCCC and EMILY’s List gave these Democratic women a valuable head start on fundraising ahead of the 2020 primary and general elections. An examination of campaign finance figures for the subset of first-term Democratic women running in competitive seats makes clear this advantage. According to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), these first-term women House members raised, on average, more than $3 million dollars each for their respective re-election bids. And, facing little to no primary challenges, they retain, on average, over $2 million dollars cash-on-hand (COH) for use in the general election. Previous research on women’s PACs has demonstrated that donors to progressive women’s PACs make contributions for the expressed desire of electing progressive women candidates but donors to conservative women’s PACs do not contribute to elect conservative women. 

On the other side of the aisle, party and women’s PAC support for Republican women candidates running in competitive races is more mixed. There are several conservative women’s PACs, including Value in Electing Women (VIEW) PAC, Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), Winning for Women, and E-PAC (Representative Stefanik’s leadership PAC), that have endorsed Republican women running in 2020 and bundle funds on their behalf. The challenge, here, however, is two-fold. First, of the 32 Republican women candidates still in the running in competitive races, just nine have been endorsed by all four of these conservative women’s PACs. Only one of those women – Beth Van Duyne (TX-24) – is running as a candidate for a competitive open seat. The remaining eight Republican women are running as challengers in races with varying degrees of competitiveness as identified by Cook Political Report.

Republican Women Candidates Endorsed by Four Largest Conservative Women’s PACs: E-PAC, Susan B. Anthony List, VIEW PAC, and Winning for Women

Republican Woman Candidate

Congressional District

Seat Status

Cook Political Report Rating

 

Tiffany Shedd

AZ-01

Challenger

Lean Democratic

Young Kim

CA-39

Challenger

Lean Democratic

Maria Elvira Salazar

FL-27

Challenger

Likely Democratic

Karen Handel

GA-06

Challenger

Tossup Democratic

Ashley Hinson

IA-01

Challenger

Tossup Democratic

Michelle Fischbach

MN-07

Challenger

Tossup Democratic

Claudia Tenney

NY-22

Challenger

Tossup Democratic

Beth Van Duyne

TX-24

Open Seat

Tossup Republican

Genevieve Collins

TX-32

Challenger

Tossup Democratic

Source: Cook Political Report House Ratings, candidate endorsement lists from women’s PAC websites (as of July 16, 2020)


Second, as demonstrated in the table below, the fundraising might of conservative women’s PACs on behalf of Republican women candidates pales in comparison to funds raised by EMILY’s List for Democratic women candidates.

Campaign Receipts & Disbursements for Selected Women’s PACs

 

Receipts

Disbursements

EMILY’s List

$ 52,584,349

$ 45,512,268

E-PAC

$ 705,301

$ 677,757

Susan B. Anthony List

$ 616,620

$ 449,830

VIEW PAC

$ 664,861

$ 610,518

Winning for Women

$ 392,849

$ 390,406

Source: PAC campaign finance reports on file with the Federal Election Commission, June 2020


Even when combined, the four conservative women’s PACs raise and spend a fraction of the funds raised and spent by EMILY’s List.  They raise less money than EMILY’s List and direct fewer bundled funds to endorsed candidates. Two of these PACs – E-PAC and Winning for Women – are relatively new groups with smaller donor bases and fewer fundraising cycles under their belts. Additionally, these conservative women’s PACs are not united in whom they endorse. For example, even as Susan B. Anthony List identifies itself as a pro-life women’s PAC, it endorses male and female pro-life candidates. Where these PACs have had a consensus is with a small group of Republican women challengers. Most of these Republican women candidates have support from one or two conservative women’s PACs. In sum, conservative women’s PACs raise less money for endorsed candidates and vary in the Republican women they do endorse, which leaves these women at a significant financial disadvantage compared to Democratic women.

The 2018 congressional midterm elections marked a high point for efforts to close the gender gap in representation to Congress even as the gains were made almost exclusively by Democratic women. In 2020, these first-term representatives are running for re-election in competitive races and raising significant funds to defend their seats. Across the aisle, more than 200 Republican women have filed to run – often in the most competitive House districts – to seek their party’s nomination. Many of these Republican women are quality challengers with previous military, civic, and/or political experience that make them formidable and compelling candidates. And yet most of these Republican women are running as challengers. Even with conservative women’s PAC support, Republican women candidates have raised less money to date than their Democratic opponents. My analysis of campaign finance receipts to date suggests this finding may well hold for 2020. If Republicans are serious about increasing the number of Republican women members of Congress, it would be well served to direct more funds to support these women and also work collaboratively with conservative women’s PACs to enhance their efforts. Until then, the year of the Republican woman will remain an elusive goal and Republican women will remain especially underrepresented as candidates and officeholders to Congress.

Rosalyn Cooperman is Professor of Political Science at the University of Mary Washington. Professor Cooperman earned a B.A. in Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, and a Ph.D. in Political Science at Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on women's political participation, campaign finance, and the political behavior of party activists, and her work has been published in the American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, American Politics Research, and Social Science Quarterly. Since 2004, Cooperman has served as a Principal Investigator for the Convention Delegate Study (CDS), a survey of Democratic and Republican Party delegates. The CDS, initiated in 1972, is the longest standing survey of U.S. party activists. Professor Cooperman is presently working on a book manuscript, Pink and Blue Waves in Old Dominion: Women Legislators in the Virginia General Assembly.