Meghan Milloy’s mission is to get more Republican women in office. As co-founder and executive director of Republican Women for Progress, she believes that “democracy works better when it represents everyone,” and to her that means gender parity in both parties.
But while it’s her job to recruit, train and fundraise for female Republican candidates, she finds herself telling many women not to run — at least not this year.
“It’s a Catch-22 for us,” she explains. “A lot of good moderate Republican women who want to run for office, our advice is ‘You’re a good candidate, you would probably win in any other year, let’s wait.’”
Female Republican candidates are having a harder time than usual in 2018. With all the talk of the surge in women seeking elected office this year, and all the benefits of being a woman candidate in the Age of Trump, what is less often noted is that nearly all that energy and advantage seems to be on one side of the aisle.
“It’s a tough year to be a Republican woman,” agrees Anne Moses, who founded the nonpartisan group Ignite eight years ago to educate high school and college women to become the next generation of political leaders. “It’s always been hard, but this year all the reasons it’s been tough make it even tougher.”
According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, the number of Democratic women running for House seats this year increased 146 percent over 2016 (to 351), while the number of Republican women running for the House increased just 35 percent (to 99); on the other side of the Capitol there are only 14 Republican women running for the Senate compared with 27 Democratic women.
The nonpartisan group VoteRunLead has seen a threefold increase in the number of women completing their candidate training program last year — from just over 3,000 to just under 10,000 — but the proportion of Republicans has shrunk from one in five to one in nine, according to Erin Vilardi, the group’s founder and CEO.
In part this is because there have always been fewer Republican women in high office than Democratic women. Although Republicans are in the majority in Congress, three quarters of the 83 women in the House are Democrats. This is the result of several factors, chief among them the historical tendency of women to identify as Democrats and the more robust recruitment pipeline for Democratic women, all of which are even more pronounced this year than previously. And the reason for that, candidates and strategists say, is the reason for so many other phenomena in
“You either run as pro-Trump or anti-Trump,” Vilardi says. “There’s no other dynamic now. Women are expected to have a stand on Trump, on #MeToo, and men aren’t even asked the question. Republican women have a harder time with that question, and the consequences are greater for them whichever their answer.”
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