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Record Number Of Women Run For Congress In 2020

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

OK. You've heard this one before - there is a record number of women running for Congress this year. But here's one you haven't heard - the record-setting number is because more Republican women than ever are running for the House in 2020. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis reports.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Indiana Congresswoman Susan Brooks is one of just 13 Republican women who were left standing in the House after the 2018 elections.

SUSAN BROOKS: It was really such a kick to all of the Republican women. We were really not expecting to lose as many as we lost.

DAVIS: In the aftermath, Brooks was tapped to serve as candidate recruitment chair for the party. Then she and other Republican congresswomen, like New York's Elise Stefanik, set out to recruit more women to run. It's paid off.

KELLY DITTMAR: This year we're seeing more Republican women running than ever.

DAVIS: Professor Kelly Dittmar is with the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. They count at least 217 Republican women who have filed to run for the House, with more state filing deadlines still to come. That's already close to doubling the previous record of Republican women candidates a decade ago. Dittmar says better recruiting is part of it but also says many women were motivated to run because of what happened in 2018.

DITTMAR: But I do think there were some women who may have seen the narrative from the last cycle, which was really the attention to Democratic women's success and Republican women's decline in 2018, and sort of wanted to change the narrative to say, you know, the Republican Party isn't bad for women.

DAVIS: South Carolina Republican candidate Nancy Mace is one of those women. She's a state representative and a single mother of two. Her daughter was the first to encourage her to run after a Democrat won her local congressional district for a seat President Trump carried by double digits.

NANCY MACE: And she turned to me the day after the November 2018 election and said, hey, mommy, when are we going to take out Joe Cunningham?

DAVIS: Mace recently won her primary and will face Cunningham this November. She's one of many Republican candidates with politically compelling backgrounds who are running this year.

MACE: I was the first woman to graduate from the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, and could be the first Republican woman elected to Congress from the state of South Carolina.

DAVIS: The party's candidates are also more diverse. Right now, 45 Republican women have cleared their primaries, putting the party on track to beat their previous record of 53 general election nominees back in 2004. Of those 45, nearly half are women of color. That includes Michelle Steel, a first-generation Asian American challenging a Democratic incumbent for an Orange County-based district. Steele currently serves in local office, and she last won reelection with 63% of the vote, a cross-party appeal model she thinks she can replicate this November.

MICHELLE STEEL: You know what? They see me with this accent. They see me, I am a first-generation. They all voted for me.

DAVIS: Often, women candidates say they don't want the focus to be just on their gender, and that resonates with Texas Republican nominee Beth Van Duyne. She's running in an open-seat race to replace a Republican incumbent.

BETH VAN DUYNE: And I'd like to think that we see beyond gender and we see beyond the things that divide us, but we really look at what the best things are in all of us.

DAVIS: It remains to be seen how many Republican women will ultimately win this November, especially as the party is not favored to win control of the House. Even if this is a record-breaking year, Republican women still have a longer way to go to find gender parity in their party. Dittmar points out that women make up about 7% of House Republicans, compared to 38% of House Democrats.

DITTMAR: OK, this is a start, and let's continue and see if this momentum also continues not only through the general election, but also into future cycles.

DAVIS: The record number of Republican women to ever serve at one time is 25. Republicans would need to net at least 15 seats to break that record this November.

Susan Davis, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.