CHICAGO — As Republicans keep jumping into the 2024 race for president, one demographic group seems notably lacking: women.
More than a dozen candidates are seeking the nomination, including several long shots who announced their bids in recent weeks, in what is the party’s most diverse presidential field ever. Yet Nikki Haley, a former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor, is the only woman in the bunch.
America has never had a female commander in chief and Republicans historically have focused less on electing female candidates in general than the Democratic Party. And while women make up more than 50% of the population, they are underrepresented in public office, whether at city halls, state legislatures or in Washington.
In recent years, multiple organizations have helped women win election in higher numbers and capture races at the same rate as men. But they are still much less likely than men to run for office, even if they are equally qualified, research shows.
Women accounted for roughly 21% of the major party candidates for U.S. Senate last year and about 31% of U.S. House candidates, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. That follows election cycles in which each party had a record number of women elected. Women constitute less than one-third of the U.S. House and Senate and 31% of statewide elected offices, even with a record 12 female governors after last year’s midterms.
When it comes to the presidency, only five Republican women, including Haley, have undertaken prominent campaigns this century, compared with 12 among Democrats, including six in 2020.
Former tech executive Carly Fiorina was the lone top female candidate in the last open GOP presidential primary, in 2016. Republicans have taken steps to encourage more women to run for federal office since then, but the 2024 contest is unique in that it includes a former president, Donald Trump, who has not hesitated to make sexist attacks against women who challenge him, including Fiorina.
Trump’s presence, along with the increasingly toxic and violent sexism that women face as candidates, may be the biggest deterrent.
“It really takes a particular personality to be willing to have that kind of fortitude, and I’m not sure that there are any examples of it being worth it,” said Lauren Leader, the founder of All in Together, which works to get more women involved in the political process.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who was seen as a potential 2024 Republican candidate, said in a radio interview that she is focused on her job and that with Trump in the race, “right now I don’t see a path for victory with anybody else.”
That sentiment has not prevented long shots such as Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum from running.
Regardless of party, female presidential candidates face sexist assumptions about who is tough enough — or masculine enough — for the office, a theme that has surfaced repeatedly during the primary.
In the run-up to the Faith & Freedom Coalition gathering of conservatives last month, evangelical Christian leader Ralph Reed suggested that GOP presidential candidates need to take stronger positions on abortion restrictions, saying they need “a little bit of a testosterone booster shot.”
Trump continues to be the favorite for the nomination despite his history of sexism toward women, a recent civil court verdict ordering him to pay $5 million to a woman for sexual assault and defamation, and his other legal troubles.
Haley has both played down and leaned into her gender and race — she is of Indian descent and the daughter of immigrants — saying it is time to put a “badass woman” in the White House and that electing the first female president is not front of mind.
Asked during a June CNN town hall what it would mean to achieve that historic first, Haley responded that she does not think about it much. If it happens, she said, “it will be nice to have that out of the way.” She said that when she was elected the first female governor of South Carolina, she was “just kind of relieved that everybody would quit talking about it.”
At a Friday gathering of conservative women, Haley praised women as results-oriented, able to prioritize and balance and not having “near the drama that the guys have.” She repeated a campaign line about why Americans should elect a woman.
“Personally, I think to save the country we need to send a badass Republican woman to this White House,” Haley said during the Moms for Liberty event.
When women do not run or even consider it, that’s now the biggest challenge to more gender parity in public office, according to researchers and advocates. So some groups are trying new recruiting approaches.
One organization, She Should Run, conducted research about what might motivate more women to seek office. The group found that it was not enough to simply encourage women to run in order to close the gender gap. Instead, women were more motivated by the idea of shaping policy around issues that were disproportionately affecting them, such as reproductive rights and climate change, said Erin Loos Cutraro, the founder and CEO.
The group has held webinars for people who are passionate about those issues and worked to help them see how they might get involved, including by running for office. So far, a record number of people have participated in the sessions, the group said, with many attendees not having considered running for office when they registered. The goal is to help some of them see an opportunity, whether that is in 2024 or years from now.
“That’s really the goal, is how do we find these women where they are and then bring them into the conversation?” Loos Cutraro said. She said it is often a yearslong process for women from the time they first think about running for office until they actually do so. The group, which has encouraged some 40,000 women to run for office since forming in 2011, has a goal of reaching 250,000 by 2030.
Republicans have long shunned so-called identity politics, while Democrats have worked for decades to see more women elected, through groups such as EMILY’s List. That has meant GOP women’s ranks are smaller in federal office, though there are organizations that formed in recent years and had success in both 2020 and 2022 in electing Republican women to Congress.
“There has definitely been much more energy and focus on supporting conservative women running. And they’ve had real successes,” Leader said. “I think at the national level, it’s just so much more complicated.”
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