Inside the GOP's two-year fight to elect more women, and why it finally paid off in 2020
After Democrats helped drive a record number of female lawmakers to Capitol Hill in 2018, Republican women swung into action and won big in the 2020 elections.
At least 18 new Republican women will head to Congress in January, growing their numbers from 22 to at least 36 next year.
This year's historic win for GOP women came in part due to the efforts of female Republican operatives who decided to buck party tradition and strike out on their own, identifying promising candidates early in the cycle and fielding requests from women who wanted to run.
Republican women such as New York Rep. Elise Stefanik put a great deal of effort into helping female candidates during primaries, despite initial pushback from party leadership.
"I think probably most of the party realizes that perhaps our approach was more successful than theirs," said former GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock, who sits on the boards of organizations that work to elect Republican women.
At least two women who have expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory will join the Republican ranks, raising questions about how leadership will handle them.
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Two years ago, Republican Young Kim arrived in Washington for her freshman orientation, a time-honored tradition where newly elected members of Congress come to Capitol Hill to learn all the rules and perks of being a lawmaker.
There was one catch, however: Kim's close Southern California race hadn't been called, but she went to Washington just in case. By the time all the votes were tallied, she'd lost.
This year, Kim returned to Washington for orientation again. She was the undisputed victor this time, and one of the many new Republican women who won their congressional races across the country.
The success for Republican women in the 2020 election cycle comes two years after they watched Democrats usher in a historically diverse class, while the GOP could show very little progress on that front.
This time around, Republican women will grow their numbers to at least 36 seats in both the House and the Senate, up from 22 in the 116th session. Come January, Congress will have 142 women, its highest number ever — the vast majority of them Democrats.
While down-ballot Republicans generally performed well this year, their gains in the House are largely due to a rogue effort by Republican women to pull more female candidates into the primary process and back successful contenders.
"It's very exciting, the outcome," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who just fended off a tough challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon to keep her seat. "We've needed to reach out to women to run for office as Republicans. I give Elise Stefanik in the House a great deal of credit for organizing that effort and it was extremely successful."
The incoming winners include California's Michelle Steel, who along with Kim and Democrat Marilyn Strickland will be one of the first Korean American women elected to Congress; Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma and Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who flipped seats for the GOP; and Yvette Herrell of New Mexico, who also ran unsuccessfully in 2018 but tried again in this cycle.
Included in this large House cohort of GOP women are at least two politicians who have openly supported the QAnon conspiracy theory, whose adherents the FBI has labeled a terror threat. Republican leadership seems prepared to embrace them as it pursues a House majority by any means necessary.