Mayra Flores was sworn in on Tuesday, becoming Texas’ first Republican Latina to join Congress. Flores’ victory also sets a new milestone: A historic high of 147 women overall and a record 41 Republican women now hold congressional seats, according to data from the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University.
Born in Mexico to migrant farmworkers, Flores is a first-time candidate who defeated her Democratic opponent this month in Texas’s 34th congressional district, which is historically Democratic. Flores’ addition to Congress underscores the growing visibility of Republican Latinx candidates and rising numbers of GOP women in the legislative branch.
That number has seen a sharp increase from 2018, when the number of Republican women in Congress dropped from 23 to 13. The gains women candidates have made since then reflect greater support and investments among Republican party leadership and outside conservative groups, experts told The 19th.
“I think 2018 was a bit of a yet another wake-up call to the Republican Party about women’s under-representation within the party,” CAWP Director Debbie Walsh told The 19th. “Republican women are following the playbook in many ways that we’ve seen on the Democratic side of women raising money for women candidates.”
Flores’ swearing-in comes on the heels of newly elected Republican Rep. Connie Conway, who won the open seat special election to replace former Republican Rep. Devin Nunes in California’s 22nd congressional district. Conway, whose election set the previous record for the number of women in Congress at 146, was sworn in on June 14. The rapid gains Republican women have made in just a few short years could be a signal for this year’s midterms when historically the president’s party loses seats.
Two groups founded within the last six years — Winning for Women and E-PAC, founded by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik — have helped to boost conservative women candidates alongside VIEW PAC, a more established organization for Republican women. These groups, in addition to growing enthusiasm from the Republican establishment, are helping Republican women candidates get critical support early on in their races.
After 2018, candidates experienced challenges winning their primaries, but they saw more success in 2020.
“In 2020, the party saw that of the seats that they won, especially the seats that they took away from Democrats, most of them were won by a woman, a person of color or both,” said Michele Swers, a professor of American government at Georgetown University who focuses her research on women’s representation in politics.
Those 2020 victories include Michelle Steel and Young Kim, Korean American women who both flipped House seats in California. That same year Maria Elvira Salazar, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, defeated Democratic incumbent Donna Shalala in Florida’s 27th congressional district.
Democratic groups have more robust infrastructure for funding women candidates with organizations like the PAC Emily’s List, though Democratic women of color have still struggled to gain access to party and financial support during their political campaigns. Democratic party leaders and voters have also historically demonstrated more interest in diversity among candidates, Swers said.
Flores’ victory in a Democratic stronghold captures another nuance: an increase in Latinx candidates running as Republicans. Other Republican Latinas are getting national attention in their races, including Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump will compete in November for Texas’ 15th congressional district, and Cassy Garcia, who is running in the fall for Texas’ 28th congressional district, facing off against nine-term Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar.
“In this cycle, you are seeing more women stepping up, particularly more Latina women that we’re seeing run on the Republican side, and they have a good amount of party resources behind them,” Swers said.
Flores’ June victory came during a special House election after the 34th congressional seat became vacant when incumbent Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela Jr. resigned in March. Flores significantly outraised her Democratic opponent and focused ads on her marriage to a border patrol agent and the need for border security and legal immigration.
Flores will serve an abbreviated term until January, but she is also the Republican nominee for the 34th district in November — the race Vela Jr. would have competed in had he run for reelection. But that race won’t be an exact repeat of the special election: In November the 34th congressional district will fall under newly redrawn district parameters that make it much more friendly to Democrats, and Flores will face a different opponent.