If Karen Handel wins Tuesday’s much-watched special election in Georgia’s Sixth District, she would become the first Republican woman sent to Congress from the Peach State.
Currently there are no women among Georgia’s two senators and 14 House members. The last female House member from the state was Democrat Cynthia McKinney, who lost her bid for reelection in 2006.
Handel, 55, is locked in a tight race with Democrat Jon Ossoff, 30, for the seat vacated by Tom Price, who took a job in the Trump administration as health and human services secretary. The contest is being seen as a barometer of President Trump’s and the Republican Party’s ability to hold on to their congressional majority in next year’s midterm elections.
Besides Georgia, 10 other states have no female members of Congress, according to data compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, and two states — Mississippi and Vermont — have never sent a woman to Washington.
In addition to McKinney, four other Democratic women have been elected to Congress from Georgia. The first one, in 1940, was Florence Reville Gibbs, who replaced her husband in the House after his death.
Kelly Dittmar, a political-science professor and scholar at the Rutgers center, said it’s not clear why the state has so few women, considering its relatively large congressional delegation. “Women generally have struggled to be elected to Congress from Georgia, no matter the party,” Dittmar said.
The lack of female representation in Georgia’s congressional delegation is striking, given that the state sent the first woman to the U.S. Senate: Rebecca Latimer Felton was appointed in 1922 to fill a vacancy. She served one day. Her brief political biography on the Senate website notes that in her only floor speech, she told her colleagues, “When the women of the country come in and sit with you … you will get ability, you will get integrity of purpose, you will get exalted patriotism and you will get unstinted usefulness.”