The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans have elected a record number of women and minorities. It wasn’t an accident.

Rep.-elect Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) wears a protective mask while arriving to a new member briefing at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 13. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg)
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Republicans have long been under scrutiny because of the relatively small number of GOP women and minorities holding House and Senate seats. The recent election, however, has changed everything, as a record number of Republican women and minorities take their seats in the House.

At least 33 House Republicans will be either women or non-White when the new body sits in January. This includes 27 women, six Hispanics, and two Black men, Burgess Owens of Utah and Byron Donalds of Florida. They come from all regions of the country and represent urban, suburban and rural seats.

In fact, every seat Republicans have flipped from blue to red has been captured by a woman or a minority. This wasn’t an accident. Aided by efforts by the National Republican Congressional Committee and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), GOP officials strenuously tried to recruit capable female and non-White candidates for as many pickup opportunities as possible. These efforts could bear even more fruit, as two other women and one Hispanic — Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Iowa, Claudia Tenney in New York and Mike Garcia in California — might still win the seats they are contesting. Three other female or non-White candidates put on competitive races against first-term Democratic representatives.

This success extended into competitive open seats as well. Tony Gonzales unexpectedly captured Texas’s 23rd Congressional District along the Rio Grande — a seat vacated by Republican Rep. Will Hurd — which voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Victoria Spartz, a Ukrainian immigrant, retained a seat centered in Hamilton County, Ind. — the wealthiest and most-educated county in the state. And former Irving, Tex., mayor Beth Van Duyne won a seat in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs that Joe Biden carried. Each of these Republican candidates weathered an onslaught of television ads and unprecedented spending from Democrats and outside progressive groups.

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Even safe Republican seats often turned to women after hard-fought primaries. Two businesswomen who had never before run for office — Diana Harshbarger (Tenn.) and Lisa McClain (Mich.) — used their wealth to defeat serious competition in multi-candidate primaries even though some of their opponents were backed by the powerful Club for Growth, a group whose endorsement and money often makes or breaks Republican hopefuls. Mary Miller of downstate Illinois and Kat Cammack of northern Florida, formerly the deputy chief of staff to Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), similarly won safe seats in their states after dispatching male foes in an open primary. Most notable among this group, perhaps, is former restaurateur Lauren Boebert, who first defeated five-term Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) by 9 points in the GOP primary and then beat back a spirited challenge from Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush to prevail in November.

Many of these victors had success and notoriety before their entry into politics. Maria Elvira Salazar, a Cuban American who defeated Rep. Donna Shalala (D) in a Miami-based seat, came from Spanish-language television, for example, where she had a long and award-winning career, while Burgess Owens, a Black man, had been an NFL player before winning a four-way primary and defeating Rep. Ben McAdams (D) in Salt Lake County, Utah. Nancy Mace, the newly elected representative from Charleston, S.C., gained fame as the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, a previously all-male military college.

Most, however, came up the old-fashioned way: building on prior elective success to climb another rung on the political ladder. Eleven of the new female or non-White representatives had previously won local or state elected office.

This trend also arose in Senate contests, too. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) beat a White, male GOP opponent, Rep. Doug Collins, in her special election, and former representative Cynthia Lummis swept to an easy victory to win Wyoming‘s open Senate seat. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) both won reelection in tough races, while a Black candidate, John James, ran ahead of President Trump to barely fall short in his challenge against Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Lummis and perhaps Loeffler, if she wins the Jan. 5 runoff gainst Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock, will join Mississippi’s Cindy Hyde-Smith and Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn as recent additions to the ranks of female Republican senators.

The fact that these candidates are succeeding so spectacularly should put to rest the false idea that Republican voters won’t back female or non-White candidates. In almost every case, voters had the chance to choose a White or male alternative in the primary or the general election; Republicans chose otherwise.

Republican leaders are eager to showcase this diversity for the nation. Don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more about many of these talented up-and-comers soon.


An earlier version of this article misstated the area covered by Texas's 23rd Congressional District. This version has been updated.

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