The 2020 election has been branded by national outlets as “the Year of the GOP Woman,” and for good reason.
Of note, 38 Republican women will serve in the U.S. House and Senate combined, surging past the prior record of 30 in 2006. This also surpasses the number of Republican women in Congress prior to the 2020 election, by about 57 percent. Of the 13 congressional seated flipped by the GOP from Democrats, 10 were done so by women; this includes the first Korean-Americans to ever be elected nationally in Young Kim (CA-39) and Michelle Steele (CA-48), the first Iranian-American in Stephanie Bice (OK-5), the first Cherokee women in Yvette Harrell (NM-2), daughters of Cuban refugees Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27) and Nicole Malliotakis (NY-11), Victoria Spartz (IN-05), who was born in Soviet Ukraine — and others, who will bring compelling perspectives and worldviews to the Republican Party at a national level.
So, what happened in Pennsylvania, the largest state in the country without a Republican woman in its congressional delegation?
The Year of the GOP Woman in PA?
Four women ran for the PA Senate out of twenty Republican candidates. Incumbent Kim Ward (R-39) is the sole certified victor, with an extremely narrow race in Western PA that may lead to another female Republican triumph by Nicole Ziccarelli over conservative Democrat Jim Brewster. (Readers can reference Broad +Liberty contributor Kyle Sammin’s article for more insight).
Half of the Pennsylvania State Senate is elected every two years; in 2018, six GOP women ran, of whom five won, meaning 2020 marked a decrease in both Republican women running and winning in the state’s upper chamber.
Depending on the actions of pending litigation to resolve the final State Senate seat, there will either be one more Republican woman serving starting this cycle, or no change at all.
In the State House, more women will be serving on the Republican side. Of the 43 GOP women on the ballot (out of 157 candidates — a quarter of total Republican candidates), there were 26 winners, a 60 percent success rate. Comparatively, in the 2018 election, a greater percentage of Republican women were successful (78%), but far fewer ran and won.
The state’s lower chamber will have three more Republican women starting this month — not exactly a sea change in representation.
The candidates who prevailed
“I think pragmatic women who work well with others and are able to advocate successfully have a real seat at the leadership table. I am happy to be a part of a history as my win over [a] 30-year incumbent Democratic minority leader,” incoming Rep. Carrie Lewis-DelRosso shared with Broad + Liberty.
Lewis-DelRosso was part of a vanguard of candidates who shocked state Democrats, who had expected to make inroads and possibly take control of both houses of the state legislature, and instead fell flat. “My role in local government while running a small public relations firm gave me both the experience as well as the confidence to run for PA state house,” Lewis-DelRosso said.
Carrie Lewis-DelRosso was part of a vanguard of candidates who shocked state Democrats, who had expected to make inroads and possibly take control of both houses of the state legislature, and instead fell flat.
“We need strong leaders and we need people who are willing to step up and serve their communities. Women have been held back from leadership roles historically, but that is definitely changing,” Incumbent Rep. Martina White (R-170), the only Republican representing Philadelphia in the State Capitol, told Delaware Valley Journal. She trounced Democrat Michael Doyle, Jr. by over 6,100 votes in her Northeast Philadelphia seat.
Montgomery County Rep. Tracy Pennycuick (R-147), a combat veteran who beat out Democrat Jill Dennin similarly by a similar margin to win her first term, told Broad + Liberty that she is excited for the female-oriented future of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania.
“I think the success of the women in the GOP is indicative of problem-solvers. Women are problem solvers and we stepped up…and I think we care about our communities, our families, and we want to get the job done. I don’t think it’s politics as usual. I think you’re going to see change, I think you’re going to see cooperation. And I think you’re going to see the tough questions come to the surface,” Rep. Pennycuick added.
In a seat that was flipped in Bucks County, Republican Shelby Labs appealed to blue-collar voters by aligning with President Trump, running on reducing spending and tax rates, as well as backing the troops. Labs also mobilized pro-life voters, highlighting Ullman’s claim in a fiery advertisement that “early miscarriage is just some mess on a napkin.”
Diversity of background — and thought
In contrast to the national GOP and to the state’s Democrats, Pennsylvania’s Republican candidates, both men and women, showcased very little ethnic or racial diversity.
Three minority GOP women ran in 2020: Ruth Moton, Wanda Logan, and Dulce Ridder — all for the State House. In 2018, there were two minority female GOP candidates, both of whom lost. None in 2020 succeeded either, all three running in deep-blue districts.
Kathy Barnette — the first African-American to run for U.S. House in Montgomery County, and an Army veteran – was unsuccessful in her race against incumbent Democrat Madeleine Dean (R-04). She expressed her discontent with Pennsylvania Republicans’ support of minority candidates. “For one, [they need to] actually talk about us, to acknowledge the fact that we exist, and that we are running.”
Notably, Ms. Barnette highlighted the fact that there were 30 black candidates running for the U.S. House nationally. Why did Pennsylvania Republicans fail to showcase this, she asked — and where was the support for similar candidates at a state level?
“[The GOP] did not provide any assistance to me and my race, none, no money. Or even a list of people to talk to . . . They’re told to put no effort into us. If the GOP is actually interested in minorities then they need to do a better job of acknowledging our existence and to support us. I look at my own party and say there is tremendous room for improvement,” Ms. Barnette says.
Pennsylvania’s Republican candidates, both men and women, showcased very little ethnic or racial diversity.
The national GOP expanded its voter base among racial, ethnic and religious minorities in 2020, but there were recognizably fewer minority candidates in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and more homogeneity among electors, than is the norm in states such as Florida, Texas, California, and so on.
While more women succeeded in Pennsylvania, particularly at the State House level, Ms. Barnette told Broad + Liberty that she believes the GOP establishment runs deep in Pennsylvania, offering little help for GOP minority candidates based on the assumption that it’s a losing battle.
And yet, this has largely been a good election cycle for Pennsylvania Republicans on many grounds. While the Presidential vote flipped to Biden, Republicans elected two “row office” candidates for State Treasurer and Auditor General, the first Republicans to serve in these positions since 2008; the latter, Tim DeFoor, is the first person of color elected to statewide office in PA.
All things considered, if the GOP can put forth candidates with a diversity of ideas, foremost, the election results could be positive. Conservative women may be at the vanguard for this for years to come.
“I believe real debates over what are the best options are for the fiscal sustainability of the Commonwealth, as well as the country, should be the utmost priority,” Rep. Lewis-DelRosso asserted.
Pennsylvania Republicans may be slowly coming around to new leaders taking the helm of these debates, as the GOP continues soul-searching in 2021 and beyond.
Gabe Kaminsky is a rising senior at the University of Pittsburgh and a spring intern through the National Journalism Center at The Federalist. He is a spring Academy fellow at The Heritage Foundation. @Gabe__Kaminsky / firstname.lastname@example.org.