Female Republican Candidates Flipped 7 House Seats, Narrowing Democratic Majority

Sam Gillette
·6 min read

Brad Nettles/The State via AP; Steve Karnowski/AP/Shutterstock; Russell Contreras/AP/Shutterstock Rep. Nancy Mace, Rep. Michelle Fischbach and Rep. Yvette Herrell

Joe Biden may be president-elect, but Republicans are celebrating a surprising gain in the House of Representatives thanks largely to the performance at the polls by female candidates.

As of Thursday, Republicans have flipped nine seats in the House, despite the prediction of pollsters that the Democrats' majority would further widen in the Nov. 3 election. Seven out of those nine seats were won by female candidates.

"This is historic. It's the smashing success of the 2020 congressional election cycle," Rep. Elise Stefanik, who created Elevate PAC to increase the number of Republican women candidates in Congress in 2020, tells PEOPLE. "This was a priority of mine and I'm so proud of each and every one of these women."

When all the results are tallied, the number of Republican women in Congress could number 33.

The wins by Republican women resulted from a push from the party and the super PACs they created to increase the number of female Republican congresswomen. The party's women were determined to have their own moment in 2020 after Democratic women made history by winning 89 House seats in the 2018 midterm elections. (Republican women, on the other hand, only secured 13 seats — a downturn after having had 23 seats before the 2018 election.)

Mark Wilson/Getty Rep. Elise Stefanik

"I do think the 2018 midterms was both a wakeup call and a rallying cry for Republican women. They saw this large class of Democratic women being sworn in on the floor of the House in suffragette white, and with glossy magazine covers about them," Professor Betsy Fischer Martin, executive director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University, tells PEOPLE. "And the Republicans only had one new woman entering Congress, compared to the 35 Democratic women. And so the rallying cry was really, I think, Republican women wanting to make sure that their views were represented as well in Congress."

Republicans Gained Back Seats that Flipped Blue in 2018

While Democrats were shocked by the election results — and are already deconstructing the races to be better prepared for the 2022 midterms — Republicans and some election analysts weren't as surprised. Most of the seats that flipped are actually the same ones that went red in 2016 (eight out of the nine districts that flipped in 2020 elected Republican representatives four years ago). And while many voters took their anger out on Republican candidates for Congress in 2018 because President Donald Trump wasn't on the ballot, voter behavior was different with Trump running.

"What you saw in 2018 was this large sort of anti-Trump vote that in many ways, because Trump wasn't on the ballot in 2018, was taken out against Republicans running for Congress," she says. "And that's why we saw this blue wave of Democrats elected. This time, I think it's different."

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Fischer Martin said Trump's unlikely rise in politics inspired many women to bypass traditional channels and run.

"I think Trump being elected has given Republican women... a little bit of license to say, 'If he can be president without having run for office before, why can't I do it?'" she says.

In one of the more notable flips, Republican Michelle Fischbach won against the Democrat incumbent, Rep. Collin Peterson, who had served the seventh congressional district of Minnesota for almost 30 years. He is also chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Fischbach is the state's former lieutenant governor and was able to connect with voters in the conservative-leaning district.

"She had served several terms in the Minnesota State Senate, and was president of the Minnesota State Senate at one point," says Fischer Martin. "And Republicans really invested in that race from the get-go and were able to take out one of these really vulnerable Democratic incumbents."

Another Democratic incumbent, Rep. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, was defeated by Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel and the first woman elected to Congress from the state, according to The Washington Post.

"It’s not just Democrat women breaking glass ceilings; we broke a huge barrier Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, when the result was called in South Carolina," said Mace, per the paper. "We’re seeing it across the country."

Yvette Herrell, who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, won the second congressional district in New Mexico after battling it out with Democratic incumbent Xochitl Torres Small. She is one of three Native American women who were elected to the House of Representatives, according to The Guardian.

Ashley Hinson, a former television anchor, flipped an Iowa seat that turned blue in the 2018 midterms, winning against Rep. Abby Finkenauer. Stephanie Bice beat Rep. Kendra Horn, whose Democratic win in Oklahoma was one of the biggest upsets of the election two years ago.

In a 2020 rematch in South Florida, Maria Elvira Salazar won against Rep. Donna Shalala. (Shalala beat Salazar with a six-point win in 2018, and was expected to win, according to the Cook Political Report.) And, in one of the later races to be called, Michelle Steel ousted Rep. Harley Rouda, the Democratic incumbent in a Southern California district, according to The New York Times.

Pelosi: Dems Didn't Win Every Battle, But Won the War

The result is a narrower Democratic majority for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who according to The New York Times went over the election results in an emotional conference call, telling them, "We did not win every battle, but we did win the war."

Ting Shen/Xinhua via Getty House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

But she and others also expressed frustration over the loss of seats.

"Something went wrong," said Rep. Cheri Bustos, who led the party's campaign arm. She promised to investigate what went awry and targeted problems in the polling process, the Times reports. "They all pointed to one political environment, but voters who turned out looked a lot like 2016."

"We protected the lone firewall in our democracy," she continued. "Now, hopefully and probably with Joe Biden to take back the White House, we are now in a position to put our priorities into action because we held on to this fragile majority."

Meanwhile, Republicans are celebrating their victories, and more Republican women are expected to run for election during the 2022 midterms. Stefanik says she and other super PACs like E-PAC will continue to encourage and invest in Republican women candidates for Congress.

"We're also going to make sure that we're investing in these newly elected women to make sure they're in the best position to hold these districts," the congresswoman says. "I also think historically in 2022, if there is a Democratic House and potentially a Democratic presidency, it's a huge opportunity for Republicans to win additional seats."