With two special elections in North Carolina this year, Republicans have a chance to send to Congress some company for West Virginia Rep. Carol Miller, the only female GOP lawmaker in the House freshman class.
The number of Republican women in the chamber is at a new low with just 13 in the 116th Congress, down from 23 the previous session. About 100 GOP women ran for the House in the 2018 cycle, but many of them struggled to get through primaries.
North Carolina could help Republicans increase those numbers, especially if they nominate a woman in the 3rd District that’s likely to remain in GOP hands. (The state currently has two women in its 15-member delegation, including GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx.)
But it’s not that simple, especially for a party that historically hasn’t supported prioritizing identity over ideology. The two special election primaries have drawn wide interest from local Republicans — mostly men — clamoring for seats that haven’t been open in years, and it’ll be hard for these congressional hopefuls to differentiate themselves without outside help.
Candidates need to win 30 percent of the vote to avoid a primary runoff in North Carolina. But no one expects this to happen in either race so there may be little incentive for members of the state delegation or outside groups to endorse ahead of a runoff. For Republican women looking to make it into the top two, that could be too late.
GOP women’s groups that play in primaries haven’t made any decisions yet. New York Rep. Elise Stefanik’s leadership PAC is watching and talking to the female hopefuls. The Susan B. Anthony List is still looking at all the candidates, as is VIEW PAC, which will talk to all the women running.
“We’re happy to see so many women throwing their hats in the ring, and are continuing to watch the races closely to see if we can be helpful,” Olivia Perez-Cubas, spokeswoman for the GOP group Winning for Women, said in an email.
That a handful of Republican women have filed in each race at least gives the party options and may be indicative of broader interest from GOP women across the country in running for office in 2020.
“We have between 30 and 35 women who have raised their hands already in the first quarter,” said Julie Conway, the executive director of VIEW PAC. “I have never had this many people come forward voluntarily without being recruited or asked 10 times to run,” she said of the early interest.
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In a coastal district that President Donald Trump carried by 24 points in 2016, winning the GOP nomination goes a long way toward becoming the next member of Congress. Fourteen Republican men and three women have stepped forward for that opportunity in the race to replace longtime Republican Rep. Walter B. Jones, who died in February. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.
The most prominent woman is likely Michele Nix, the former vice chairwoman of the state Republican Party. She resigned from that position to run for this seat.
Joan Perry is one of three doctors running in the primary. She touts herself as a “pro-life pediatrician” who has never run for office before. She’s worked on the University of North Carolina System’s board of governors as well as for former Gov. Pat McCrory’s health and human services transition team. Perry is also a triathlete who has competed in several world championships, according to her campaign website.
Accountant Celeste Cairns is a cousin of Texas GOP Rep. Lance Gooden, who was elected to Congress last fall. She lives in Carteret County now but moved around a lot overseas with a husband in the Army special forces.
The other 14 candidates are men, including three sitting state lawmakers and three county commissioners.
“It’s a bit of a free for all, right now, which is good and bad,” Conway said. “One of the women could certainly make a push for it.”
The primary is on April 30, with a runoff on July 9. The general election would then be on Sept. 10. If no runoff is needed, the general would be on July 9.
Ten Republicans filed in the 9th District, which stretches along the South Carolina border from the wealthy suburbs of Charlotte to Fayetteville. Media markets are much more expensive here, making it hard for anyone to break through without serious money.
This is a redo election because the state refused to certify last fall’s results after the discovery of election fraud tied to the campaign of Republican Mark Harris, the apparent winner. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Dan McCready, who finished 905 votes behind Harris last November.
Harris is not running again. He’s backed Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing, one of six men running for the GOP nod.
The most recent occupant of the seat, Republican Robert Pittenger, has endorsed former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour.
Four Republican women have filed to run. They include former state Sen. Fern Shubert, an accountant. During a failed bid for the 2004 GOP gubernatorial nomination, she gained national attention for an ad that tied the Democratic governor at the time to terrorism.
Stevie Rivenbark is making her personal story part of her campaign. Currently a single mother of two who works in health care, she almost died in a 2012 car crash when she was pregnant.
“Facing life threatening conditions, I chose to protect the life of my unborn child rather than pursuing personal medical treatment that would have been unfavorable to my pregnancy,” Rivenbark writes on her campaign website.
Real estate agent Leigh Brown is making her work experience a part of her campaign, talking about affordability in housing in a Facebook Live video announcing her campaign last Friday. She also addressed the negativity in campaigns, which is often cited as a reason women haven’t stepped up to run as often as men.
“By the way, if you want more good people to run for office, please show me a little respect,” Brown says. “I’m the candidate. Please leave my children out of this. Please leave my husband out of this, and let me be your candidate.”
Kathie Day of Cornelius is also running.
The primary is on May 14. The primary runoff would be on Sept. 10, followed by a Nov. 5 general election. If there’s no runoff, the general election will be on Sept. 10.
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Correction 4:18 p.m. | Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misstated the month North Carolina Rep. Walter B. Jones died.