In 2018, the Year of the Woman, I ran for Congress as a Republican in the 14th district of California. I ran where Republican registration was 13.6%, a district that was largely treated with neglect by the state and national parties. I wasn’t trained; I wasn’t funded; I wasn’t known. The local press, tied intimately to the ruling Democratic Party, gave me no coverage.
Then a fairly new group of Republican women found me, Republican Women for Progress. They connected me with other women’s groups like VoteRunLead, got me press coverage at the national level, and helped turn my campaign into a viable starter campaign for a novice female politician. Knowing that there was a group of women who shared my values and appreciated candidates with my center-right profile gave my campaign some much-needed moral support and filled me with energy. Being connected with a deep network of women in the same position made me realize that I was part of a movement. When you are in the middle of something, it is hard to see what is happening more broadly. It took a few months after the election for me to really internalize what happened. I ran for Congress in the Year of the Woman. And, although I lost, women won. That’s a story I will tell my great-grandchildren if I ever get to meet them.
Last year, a record number of women ran for U.S. Congress and a record 123 women are now serving. That’s up from 115 women in the last session, which is up from 108 in the session prior. It seems like a promising trend, an outstanding statistic. Here’s the problem: The party distribution of these women is decidedly Democratic, particularly in the House of Representatives. During a great year for women in general, the House of Representatives lost Republican women. Representation fell from 25 in the 115th Congress to just 13 Republican women in this session. Female Democratic representatives rose to 89 from 67 in the prior. 2018 was the Year of the Woman indeed — the Year of the Woman in Blue.
This gender asymmetry along party lines was not always the case. In fact, the first woman elected to the House of Representatives was Republican, Jeannette Rankin of Montana in 1916. The 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, was originally introduced to Congress in 1878 by Senator Aaron Augustus Sargent, a Republican. And Republican women represented the majority of the sparse female population in Congress until 1929. That was 90 years ago. Things have changed.
It is easy to explain. Aspiring Republican female politicians today do not receive the same kind of support as their Democratic counterparts. Democrat-leaning political support groups have helped women for decades. Since 1985, EMILY's List has provided valuable early contributions to pro-choice female Democratic candidates. Emerge America has been training female Democrats since 2002. This kind of early money and training, by itself, provides a useful boost to candidates on the favored side of the aisle. A novice female Democratic politician faced with my challenges would have had a drop-down menu of support groups to choose from. This has led to a pipeline of Democratic officeholders that can mature into more senior candidates. On the national level, in contrast, the Republican Party simply did not support female candidates in 2018. Consistent with the party ethic of eschewing identity politics, the Republican Party has deprived itself of the broader breadth that future female leaders would offer.
It is important for Republican women to run for a multitude of reasons. First, with only 13 Republican women now in the House, the career path of aspiring female Republicans is losing visibility and could become even more obscure for the next generation. A trailblazer today can pave tomorrow’s well-worn road. Second, such asymmetric support and recruiting for female Republicans versus female Democrats should naturally result in asymmetric success. And a disproportionate number of successful female Democrats may result in typecasting female politicians as Democrats. This was, in fact, suggested to me before I launched my campaign — as a woman of color I should definitely run as a Democrat, someone advised. This typecasting may close the career door to more conservative-leaning women looking to get politically active. It may have already put women in general inside a political box. Finally, the Republican Party needs to change at the policy level to accommodate women. With enough women in positions of influence in the GOP, policies that may have overlooked female concerns in the past could undergo a needed reshape.
With a dearth of party-specific resources available to Republican women, it is important for aspiring female GOP candidates to avail of what resources are available to them. I am participating in VoteRunLead #RunAsYouAre2019 training for just this reason — because there is a home for orphan candidates like me.
In order to complete the women’s movement, it must penetrate the more conservative parts of society and it must resonate on both sides of the aisle. Organizations such as VoteRunLead that make sure to support women on both sides of the aisle understand this. Gender inequality is a universal problem, not something that belongs on the liberal or conservative side of the spectrum. Gender equality must be manifest in both parties. People should choose between Republican and Democrat based on other issues — economic systems, foreign policy, and the structure of the healthcare industry — not on whether women should be represented equally in government or industry or anywhere else. This should be a given.
Equality of opportunity is an idea that belongs to everyone. As a Republican woman, I am willing to assert that idea within Republican circles as well as outside of them — until it becomes reality.
Cristina Osmeña is a former candidate for U.S. Rep. in California's 14th Congressional District and an operating partner at a venture investment and consulting firm to tech startups.