Among the 33 new women elected to the House this week, only one is a Republican.
Carol Miller, the majority whip in the West Virginia state House and daughter of a former Ohio congressman, won the Mountain State’s 3rd District seat Tuesday night, defeating Democratic state Sen. Richard Ojeda.
Although she’s replacing a man (GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins didn’t run for re-election) Miller is joining a House Republican conference with significantly fewer women than the current Congress.
There are 23 Republican women in the House in the 115th Congress. But a quarter of them did not seek re-election. Two more (Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock and Georgia Rep. Karen Handel) lost their re-elections, and at least three more remain in jeopardy in races that the Associated Press has yet to call. Miller could be joined by one additional new woman, California’s Young Kim, whose race in California’s 39th District is also yet to be called.
As late as September, Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, predicted the GOP could see an increase in female representation. In reality, it was difficult to see how the conference could break even. Many female recruits were running in districts that favored Democrats. And although Stivers touted the party’s efforts to recruit 120 women to run, only a fraction won their primaries.
Republicans’ inability to get women through primaries has been a source of frustration for some female members and operatives who wish they had an organization like EMILY’s List that could invest serious resources into intra-party contests.
Miller was one of the few women who made it through a contested GOP primary this year. She took 24 percent of the vote in a seven-way contest in May. A new outside group dedicated to electing GOP women spent five-figures on a digital buy in the last week of the race but that probably wasn’t a deciding factor in her victory.
Asked in May what distinguished her from her closest primary competition, Miller said, “Well, I’m a wife, a mother and a grandmother,” before touting her legislative experience.
Miller kicked her own resources into both her primary and general election campaigns. According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, she loaned her campaign more than $500,000 by mid-October. Her family owns a number of car dealerships in the area.
A bison farmer whose campaign slogan was, “cut the bull out of politics,” Miller ran as a Washington outsider, but her late father was an Ohio congressman for 22 years. Samuel L. Devine retired as the House Republican Conference chairman in 1980.
President Donald Trump carried the southern 3rd District by 49 points, and Miler fully embraced him. Democrats viewed this open seat as their best pickup opportunity in the Mountain State because Ojeda, a retired Army major who voted for Trump in 2016, was seen as a good fit for the district. He ran an unconventional campaign and didn’t hold back against Miller, often directly responding to her attacks in his own TV ads.
Ojeda outraised Miller, bringing in $2.2 million to her $1.6 million by the end of the pre-general reporting period in mid-October. But Miller defeated Ojeda handily Tuesday night, 56 to 44 percent.