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Why Republican women are running for Congress in record numbers

Correction: In this segment, we incorrectly stated that Nancy Mace would be the first woman to represent South Carolina in Congress. In fact, Mace would be the first Republican woman from the state. NewsHour regrets the error.

This year, more women are running for Congress than ever before, shattering records set in 2018. But this time, the increase in female candidates is driven in part by Republican women on the ballot. Lisa Desjardins reports on what the GOP has done to attract women -- and what they still need to do to close the wide gender gap in the House.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are more women running for Congress than ever before, shattering even the records set in 2018.

    This time, it's driven in part by record numbers of Republican women on the ballot.

    Lisa Desjardins has our report on what the GOP has done and why they still need — what they still need to do to close the wide gender gap in the House.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This could be the face of change in the Republican Party.

  • Nancy Mace:

    Let's bump some elbows. How you doing today?

  • Man:

    Hey, good to see you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Nancy Mace is running to be the first South Carolina woman ever in Congress, and part of what some hope is a gender shift for Republicans.

    Both parties have gender gaps. In the House of Representatives, 88 Democrats, or 38 percent, are women. But it is a chasm for House Republicans, with just 13 women, a tiny 7 percent of their ranks right now.

  • Nancy Mace:

    Thank you. I appreciate it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Enter Mace and a new class of candidates. She's a single mom who represents the Low Country near Charleston in the Statehouse now, and who broke barriers early in life as the first woman to graduate from South Carolina's military institution, the Citadel.

  • Nancy Mace:

    It's not just Democrat women that are breaking barriers or breaking glass ceilings.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Mace means this. A record 94 Republican women are on the ballot for the House of Representatives this year, nearly double the number two years ago.

    Then, a wave of new Democratic women entered the House and got Republicans' attention.

    On 2018, it sounds like — was that kind of a call to action?

  • Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind.:

    I really do believe it was. We lost some amazing incumbent women. And my colleagues, we all really did look and say, well, what can we do differently going forward?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Indiana Republican Congresswoman Susan Brooks, who will retire this year, headed up the recruitment of female candidates this cycle.

    A frequent concern she hears, is Congress worth the effort?

  • Rep. Susan Brooks:

    Because they very much all across the board want to make a difference. They don't want to waste their time. They want to know that what they're going to be doing is really making a difference.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This during renewed attention on and excitement for conservative women.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C:

    Good morning. Welcome, Judge.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    With the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham:

    This hearing to me is an opportunity to not punch through a glass ceiling, but a reinforced concrete barrier around conservative women. You're going to shatter that barrier.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But that energy hasn't yet translated to more seats in congress. Party leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been asked:

  • Question:

    Why do you think the gender gap is wider now than it has been previously?

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    Well, it's an interesting question, and something I'm not happy with, and I hope we can improve in the coming weeks and years.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Brooks also says she's unsure, but points to money.

  • Rep. Susan Brooks:

    I do know, historically, the women candidates have had a harder time fund-raising. And so we haven't had the ability to break through our primaries.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There's also a leadership gap. House Republicans have just one woman in leadership, Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, and just two are the highest ranking on their committees.

    Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said gender shouldn't be a factor for Cheney or anyone in politics.

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.:

    She's not defined by being in my conference because she's a woman. She's defined by being in my conference because she got elected because she's the best person for the job.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That creates a tricky situation for Republican women.

    Julie Conway created and runs VIEW PAC, a group focused on electing more GOP women.

  • Julie Conway:

    Historically, Republican women have had a bit of a challenge, because gender politics, identity politics on the Republican side wasn't really taken too seriously.

    It was always the concept that the best candidate will emerge from a primary, and that person will be our candidate in the general. And, unfortunately, there is not a level playing field in terms of electing Republican women and Republican men.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Even in this record group of candidates, you can see that. Of the 94 Republican women running this year, 11 are in Congress now and just 14 others are seen as having a chance to win.

  • Nancy Mace:

    I'm Nancy Mace. I learned my Low Country values…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That includes Mace in a high-dollar race with freshman Democrat Joe Cunningham, who has touted an environmental record for the coast. She's blunt about the system overall.

    Do you think that politics is still a boys club?

  • Nancy Mace:

    Oh, absolutely, 100 percent.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And she sees the ballot as one piece of the puzzle.

  • Nancy Mace:

    Being in elected office is not enough. We have to have our voices heard.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    For Republican women, a push to be heard and to be a larger force at the table in Washington.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

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