GOP Women, 2012 House Overview

Ohio Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt lost her primary yesterday, which seems like a good excuse for me to take a first look at how this election cycle is shaping up for women Republicans in the US House of Representatives -- following up on my Senate overview last week.

As my regular readers know, I was quite adamant that the much-touted "Year of the GOP Woman" in 2010 was a failure. To be fair, more new GOP women got elected to the House than had initially seemed likely, but that was because such an enormous number of new Republicans got elected to the House altogether.

As I wrote ad nauseum, that was a unique window of opportunity for the GOP to make headway in their gross gender imbalance. It didn't happen. Despite the numeric gains, the overall makeup of the Republican House caucus remained 90% men, 10% women -- there are currently 24 women out of 242 Republicans in the House.

With Sue Myrick retiring this year, and Schmidt now voted out, that drops the number of returning GOP women to 22. That could drop further; Ann Marie Buerkle of New York faces a tough re-election, and redistricting has tossed Sandy Adams of Florida into a veteran Republican's district. At least two other incumbents, Judy Biggert of Illinois and Nan Hayworth of New York, are considered potentially vulnerable.

Redistricting often provides opportunities for new faces to get into Congress -- it's been one of the most important factors in the increase of women Democrats over the past few decades. In addition, there are at least 10 Republican members retiring or leaving to run for other office, along with more than 20 Democrats, some of whom are leaving competitive seats.

Judging the situation now is a little difficult, because candidate decision-making has been slowed by a number of states working through their redistricting processes. 

But so far, to quote a recent article in USA Today, "Republicans have had less success [than Democrats] in recruiting women to run" for House seats.

The National Republican Congressional Committee's "Young Guns" program, which identifies and assists viable candidates, shows what that means. Only two of the 14 candidates who have reached "Contender" status are women, and just six of the 61 listed as "On the Radar."

I've found perhaps a handful of others, in addition to those eight, who seem to have a chance at the GOP nomination in a winnable race. But I'd also note that several of the "On the Radar" women are in tough primary and/or general-election races themselves.

The total number of GOP women in the House may rise or fall by a couple in the end. But the truth is, even if they make gains there is very little chance that the GOP caucus will change much from the 90%/10% ratio any time soon. There are simply too many men holding the potential Republican seats already, a large number of whom have just started their tenure. 

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