WASHINGTON—Republicans will have at least 26 women in the House — the most they've ever had and more than double what they have now — when the 117th Congress convenes in January.
The change to the gender composition of the House GOP is just one of many coming to the next Congress, which will also blaze trails on race, sexual orientation and age.
The 2018 midterm election brought a deluge of "firsts" and trailblazing diversity to the House, led mostly by women of color within the Democratic caucus. Democrats took control of the chamber that year with 89 women in their ranks.
Some of them were ousted by Republican women on Nov. 3, one result of a concerted effort by the GOP to recruit more female candidates and support them through the finish line.
Julie Conway, executive director of VIEWPac, which supports Republican women running for office, told CQ Roll Call that the huge class of 2018 midterm winners opened some GOP women up to the idea of running for Congress.
"The success of the Democratic women in 2018 certainly was a wake-up call," Conway said.
She said seeing women be successful in getting elected, but not sharing the same philosophies or policy positions, led GOPwomen to say, "Maybe I should try."
Losing the House majority also presented new opportunities to have female candidates run for both open seats and to challenge first-term Democrats.
The 2018 midterms saw a record 102women elected to the House. Of the 36 female freshmen elected that year, just one was a Republican.
A woman won in almost every district that Republicans flipped, a strong showing that brings credibility to the argument that conservative women can win competitive seats if they can survive a primary.
Conway said there is a growing realization that primaries matter, not all candidates are equal when it comes to the general election, and women can win a fight in November.
"If you get a middle-aged white guy to win a primary because the base is out behind him and the good old boys are out supporting him, if he doesn't stand a chance in November, who cares?" Conway said.
There was no single formula for a winning Republican female candidate this year. The new class come from a variety of backgrounds: Some served in statehouses, others are gun rights activists or newcomers to electoral politics.
Maria Elvira Salazar, a longtime journalist for Telemundo, won a South Florida district, unseating Democrat Donna Shalala, a former Cabinet secretary for President Barack Obama. Statehouse experience helped Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma, Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota, Ashley Hinson of northeast Iowa and Nancy Mace of South Carolina flip their districts.
Cynthia Lummis will be the first woman to represent Wyoming in the Senate. Colorado's Lauren Boebert owns a gun-themed restaurant that defied pandemic shutdown orders and where servers openly carry firearms. Georgia's Marjorie Taylor Greene made headlines for her support of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory.
The increased number of GOP women in the next Congress means that committees that had at most one or two women on the Republican side of the dais will have more, which means different voices at the table as legislation is crafted.
The new crop of Republican women also contributed to a record number of total women elected to the House, currently at 114.
"These women raised their hands," Conway said.
"It wasn't as if we had to go begging people to run. And that's different."
The House is also seeing other changes besides gender. For the first time, women of color will make up New Mexico's entire House delegation. There will be a record six Native American or Native Hawaiian members in the 117th Congress.
Democrat Cori Bush, a nurse, single mother, ordained pastor and community activist, will be the first Black woman from Missouri ever elected to Congress.
"It's unbelievable," she told St. Louis Public Radio. "It's amazing. But it's also sad. Because it's 2020, and I'll be the first woman in the district and the first Black congresswoman ever for the state."
New York elected the first two openly gay Black men to Congress, Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones.
At the constitutionally mandated minimum age, North Carolina Republican Rep.-elect Madison Cawthorn will be the youngest member of Congress at 25.
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