Republican Women are Breaking Barriers this Year. Here's the Context.
With about two-thirds of congressional primaries wrapped up, Republican women have already broken records for candidacies and nominations to the U.S. House. Some journalists and pundits are asking whether 2020 might be for Republican women what 2018 was for Democratic women. In 2018, a cohort of overwhelmingly Democratic women ran for and were elected to office in record breaking numbers.
In March of this year, I detailed the long-term trends in the number of Republican women in the U.S. House and analyzed Super Tuesday results for Republican women candidates this year. Nearly four months later, it is undeniable that more Republican women are running and winning House primary contests than ever before. However, more analysis is necessary before declaring 2020 the “Year of the Republican Woman.” First, at what rate are Republican women winning their primary races? With nominations decided in 256 out of the 435 House districts (as of July 2), we can see better how Republican women are faring in their races in comparison to men and Democratic women. Secondly, in the House districts in which women have secured the Republican nomination, is the political landscape favorable to a general election victory? And finally, what might happen in the remaining primary contests?
Are Republican Women Running?
As noted in previous CAWP election analyses, a record number of Republican women are running for the U.S. House in 2020. With candidate filing complete in 47 states and 421 out of 435 House districts, a total of 574 (350D, 224R) women have filed. The 224 Republican women candidates who have filed for the House represent a 68.4% increase from the previous record of 133 in 2010. While the raw numbers are illuminating, it’s also useful to put this in the context of Republican women as a percentage of all major-party women House candidates. As of today, 2020, Republican women are 39% of all women candidates, up from just 25.2% in 2018. This fact alone supports the notion that 2020 may represent a historic year for Republican women. However, CAWP’s historical data reveals that Republican women made up more than 39% of all major-party women House candidates in four other years (1994, 1998, 2002, and 2010) since 1990.
This caveat should not diminish the importance of the raw numbers. Republican women are running in historically high numbers, but they are not alone. The historical data also demonstrates that this increase in Republican women’s candidacies is helping them return to their pre-2018 presence in the pool of all women House candidates.
Are Republican Women Winning?
Are Republican women winning their primaries? As of July 2, nominations were decided in 256 districts in 29 states with 25 (18D, 7R) women still in races that were too close to call and 24 (14D, 10R) women advancing to runoff elections.
Focusing only on non-incumbent candidates in contests where nominations were decided by July 2, 44.4% of Democratic women and 37.8% of Republican women won their party’s nomination. These win rates are not statistically different from each other. In contrast, only 22.5% of non-incumbent Republican men and 19.9% of non-incumbent Democratic men running for the U.S. House won their party’s nominations by July 2, 2020. It’s worth noting that men are still the majority of all House candidates, including the majority of incumbent candidates running and winning primary contests (though all incumbents who have lost House primaries this year have been men). Still, new women, including Republican women, are winning their primaries, outperforming their male counterparts, and getting one step closer to elected office.
As of July 2, women were 21.1% of Republican House nominees already selected, up from just 13.2% of Republican House nominees in all of 2018. While they are still out-represented by Democratic women – who were 46.1% of Democratic House nominees, Republican women’s increased presence on general election ballots is a point of progress this year. Republican women also make up a larger percentage of all women nominees already selected in 2020 than they did in 2018. As of July 2, Republican women were 30.9% of all women nominees – up from 22.2% in 2018.
Will Republican Women Win in November?
Will Republican women’s record number of candidacies and nominations translate into general election success and ultimately, substantive changes in Republican women’s representation in the U.S. House? To evaluate this question, we have to consider the political landscape in the districts in which Republican women are nominees. As of July 2, a record 55 Republican women House candidates secured major-party nominations. Of them, 5 are incumbents strongly favored to win re-election in November (note that two of 13 Republican women House incumbents are not running for re-election this year). Of the 50 non-incumbent Republican women who advanced to the general election by July 2, 32 are running in districts rated as “Solid Democratic” by the Cook Political Report, and another eight are running in districts currently rated as “Likely Democratic” or “Lean Democratic.” Two non-incumbent Republican nominees thus far are running in districts currently rated as “Solid Republican” by Cook Political Report, indicating likely pick-ups in the fall. These two non-incumbents are Lauren Boebert (CO-3), who won an upset victory in her primary race against incumbent Scott Tipton, and Mary Miller (IL-15), who is running for an open seat. As of July 2, there was one Republican woman nominee in a district currently rated as “Lean Republican” and seven Republican women nominees in districts deemed toss-ups, which offer opportunities for additional gains.
In comparison, of the 72 non-incumbent Democratic women House nominees selected as of July 2, 52 are running in districts currently rated as “Solid Republican” by Cook Political Report, and another eight in running in districts currently rated as “Likely Republican” or “Lean Republican.” Eight non-incumbent Democratic women candidates are poised for success in House districts currently rated as “Solid Democratic” or “Likely Democratic.” There is one Democratic woman nominee running in a district rated as “Lean Democratic” and another three running in districts deemed toss-ups, again indicating opportunities for victory in the fall.
While the number of Republican women House incumbent candidates this year is low, 51 Democratic women House incumbents secured party nominations as of July 2. Of them, 40 are strongly favored to win re-election in November. However, 11 are running in contests currently deemed competitive, including some contests where their challengers are Republican women. Three Democratic women House incumbents are not running for re-election.
These data suggest more caution about the prospects for Republican women’s gains in the U.S. House in election 2020 and illustrate that more Democratic women non-incumbent nominees are – at this point – poised for general election success than non-incumbent Republican women who have already advanced to the general election. Republican women’s U.S. House representation in the 117th Congress will depend largely on their ability to win in “toss-up” or leaning Democratic districts. Democratic women relied on winning similarly vulnerable seats in 2018, so this is not an impossible task. As the political climate for November becomes clearer, the prospects for Republican candidates overall will inform the magnitude of Republican women’s gains.
Looking to the Upcoming Primaries
Primaries have yet to occur in 20 states and 129 U.S. House districts. There are 65 filed Republican women House candidates with upcoming races. Excluding primary challengers and incumbents, 51 Republican women candidates are running as potential general election challengers or in open seat contests. Of the 51 Republican women in the running, Cook Political Report categorizes 33 of these districts as “Solid Democratic,” 9 as “Lean Democratic” or “Likely Democratic”, 2 “Toss Up”, 2 “Lean Republican,” and 5 “Solid Republican.” If Republican women are able to secure some of these nominations, particularly in the more conservative leaning districts, there is an opportunity for pick-ups.
The partisan gap among women candidates has become a hallmark of modern American elections. As noted in previous CAWP analyses, Democratic women are still better represented among women and within their own party, although Republican women are significantly more represented in their party’s candidate pool now than in 2018. This election cycle, the partisan gap has narrowed but has certainly not closed. Part of the uphill battle for Republican women is simply that, because of historical trends, many Democratic women and men are running as incumbents — with all of the advantages that accompany incumbency. The partisan gap among women candidates cannot be closed in one election cycle, but the 2020 election cycle does present an opportunity for Republican to break barriers and make progress towards the goal of greater representation.