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There will be more women sworn into the 117th U.S. Congress than ever before, with Republican women breaking their party’s record by sending a historic number of women to the House of Representatives.
There will be at least 138 women in Congress next year, including 114 in the House and 24 in the Senate. The previous record for women’s representation in Congress was set in 2019, when 127 women served, including 102 in the House and 26 in the Senate, according to the Center for Women and American Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University.
These numbers could increase as more House races are called and pending the outcome of a runoff Senate election in Georgia in which Republican Kelly Loeffler is defending her seat.
There will be at least 104 Democratic women and 34 Republican women sworn into Congress next year. The previous record for Republicans was 30 women set in 2006. The Democratic record of 106 women was set in 2019.
In the House, there will be at least 88 Democratic women and 26 Republican women. The previous record for Democratic women serving was 89, set in 2019, and for Republican women it was 25, set in 2006.
In the Senate there will be 16 Democratic and 8 Republican women. Neither party broke its record in the upper chamber, which were set in 2018 and 2020 respectively.
Republican women prevailed in some of the most competitive races in the country despite political headwinds. Republicans will be sending history-making candidates to Congress that include Michelle Steel, one of the first Korean American women, and Yvette Herrell, the first female member of the Cherokee Nation.
Both women won back districts that Republicans had lost to Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. Steel, in Southern California, defeated freshman Rep. Harley Rouda, who had won the seat after it had been in Republican control since the district’s formation in the early 1990s. In their New Mexico rematch, Herrell beat Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who had won the seat in 2018 after it had been in Republican hands for four terms.
“Clearly things broke in the favor for Republicans more than was expected,” said Kelly Dittmar, a political science professor and CAWP research director.
“I think it speaks to the importance of having more Republican women on the ballot so they can take advantage of what was a better-than-expected outcome for Republicans overall,” she added.
Democrats went into the 2020 elections believing they had a good chance to regain political control of the 100-seat Senate and pick up 10 to 15 seats to increase their majority in the 435-seat House. Instead, Republicans are on track to hold onto the Senate, and while enough House races were called as of Tuesday to determine that Democrats will maintain control of that chamber, it will be by a smaller margin than before.
Dittmar noted that the gains made by Republican women this year were “important and necessary” because it allowed them to “get back to where they were before” in terms of representation.
This year was a comeback of sorts for Republican women after the 2018 midterm elections, which sent a record-breaking 102 women to the House but just a single new Republican, with just 13 Republican women elected to the lower chamber overall that year. Women in the Republican Party at the time sounded the alarm, including Rep. Susan Brooks in Indiana, the director of House recruitment, and Rep. Elise Stefanik in New York, the former director of House recruitment and the first woman to hold that role.
After Brooks announced she would be retiring, Republican Victoria Spartz got into the Indianapolis-area race, challenging Democrat Christina Hale in a district that was seen as a bellwether for whether Democrats could continue making inroads into majority-White suburbs, as they did in 2018.
Spartz won that race, which was one of 47 House races in which both candidates were women, according to CAWP data.
In 2019, Stefanik launched E-PAC to support Republian women in their primary races and provide a counterweight to Democratic groups such as EMILY’s List — Early Money Is Like Yeast — which backs candidate who support abortion access.
Stefanik declined to be interviewed for this story or comment on Republican women’s 2020 successes.