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Could a Blue Wave Sweep Away More GOP Women?

It’s not just members like Barbara Comstock who could be in trouble

Democrats are targeting some Republicans, like Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski, even in Solid Republican races. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Democrats are targeting some Republicans, like Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski, even in Solid Republican races. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

WARSAW, Ind. — Jackie Walorski made the rounds at the Kosciusko County fish fry earlier this month like a political pro.

She took the time to sit down with veterans enjoying their fish, and she seemed to hug or clasp hands with everyone she encountered at this biannual Republican fundraiser.

“I’m tenacious, and they know that,” she said, explaining why she’s not worried about her bid for a fourth term in Indiana’s 2nd District.

Walorski is one of just 16 Republican women who’re running for re-election to the House this year. She represents a district President Donald Trump carried by 23 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales still rates her re-election race Solid Republican.

But the 2nd District is the kind of seat that could get swept up in a blue wave, diminishing the GOP’s numbers and potentially the number of Republican women in the House, too.

The party already lags behind Democrats when it comes to women in Congress. Democrats have nearly three times as many women in the House. And the House GOP is already losing a quarter of its 22 women, either because they’re retiring or running for higher office.

A Republican woman won Arizona’s 8th District special election Tuesday night, although Debbie Lesko’s 6-point margin of victory for a solidly GOP seat raised party concerns about the tough election cycle ahead. Republicans have a number of female recruits in districts across the country who could still be formidable candidates. But it remains to be seen if outside groups will spend to help get those women through primaries.

Six of the 11 female Republican incumbents Democrats are targeting are running in races that aren’t safe for Republicans. Many of those are perennial targets, such as Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia and Mia Love of Utah.

The five other targets, including Walorski, are running in seats that currently look safe for the GOP but could be susceptible to national dynamics that favor the minority party.

Democrats will need viable challengers to take advantage of a possible wave election and many face crowded primaries for these seats.

Watch: Already Small in Number, GOP Women Incumbents Could Be In Jeopardy

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Safe Republican women

An hour to the north of here, in South Bend, businessman Mel Hall criticized Walorski for not being visible.

If he wins the Democratic nomination on May 8, Hall is hoping to defeat the three-term Republican in a district with similar fundamentals to the Pennsylvania district that Democrats flipped in a special election last month. A former minister, he preaches a “relentless pragmatist” message, and has been picking up support from some national Democrats.

Hall has been pouring his own money into his campaign, but Walorski still outraised him in the first quarter of this year and has a significant cash-on-hand advantage.

She, like all her female GOP colleagues, has the benefit of incumbency. She talks about how she’s gone “toe-to-toe” with Trump on tariffs as a demonstration of her independence.

In Missouri, three-term Rep. Ann Wagner knows something about raising money. As the former fundraising vice chairwoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, she’s helped bring in money for the party and has been active in recruiting women to run for office. But her Democratic opponent outraised her during the last two quarters of 2017 in a district Trump carried by 10 points. It’s the only district in the Show-Me State on the Democrats’ target list.

Like Hall in Indiana, Cort VanOstran has earned the attention of some Washington Democrats, picking up the endorsement of End Citizens United earlier this month. But Wagner reclaimed the fundraising lead in this year’s first quarter, and continues to dominate in cash on hand.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, the youngest woman ever elected to the House, is also the first woman to be in charge of recruitment for the NRCC. As a New Yorker, Stefanik bucked party leadership on the tax overhaul. Still, Democrats are targeting her in an upstate district that Trump carried by 14 points. There’s no shortage of Democrats eager to take her on — seven have filed including former MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan — but none has yet neared the $1.3 million she has in the bank.

Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler also bucked party leadership when she voted against the GOP health care bill last year. She was already on the Democrats’ target list and represents a district Trump carried by 7 points. 

Alabama Rep. Martha Roby comfortably won a fourth term in 2016 but with less than 50 percent of the vote, thanks to a write-in campaign inspired by her disavowal of Trump. She’s facing a primary this year, and Democrats have added her to their target list too.

More vulnerable women

Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking woman in the House GOP conference, is in a Likely Republican race for a district that Trump carried by 13 points. The seven-term congresswoman has a fundraising edge, but Democratic challenger Lisa Brown has been raising significant money. Recent polling has shown a close race.

One of the newest women in the House, Georgia Rep. Karen Handel, also finds herself in a Likely Republican race. Democrats failed to pick up this open seat in an expensive special election last year. They won’t have anywhere near the resources to devote to the district this time. But in a suburban area that doesn’t like Trump (he carried the seat by just 1 point), Democrats see Handel as a target.

Utah Rep. Mia Love has been a Democratic target before. She won by double digits in 2016, but her re-election got more competitive after Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams entered the race. He’s narrowed Love’s cash-on-hand advantage and has made it onto the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue list. He’s also attracted support from the New Democrats and Blue Dogs.

A handful of GOP women are among the conference’s most vulnerable members and could be among the first to fall, even without a large Democratic wave. Comstock and New York Rep. Claudia Tenney both made Roll Call’s list of the 10 most vulnerable incumbents last fall. California Rep. Mimi Walters could also be in trouble.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report. 

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