The new year will be an important one for Republicans to build support among women and minorities.
For Republicans more than Democrats, 2013 will be a big year. Big fights loom on tax reform, entitlements, immigration, gun violence, foreign policy, and implementing healthcare reform. How Republicans handle the debate over these issues—not just in terms of actual policies, but with the right tone and attitude—could go a long way toward building support for the party's policies among women and minorities. Here are five women who can change the face of the Republican Party in 2013.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers was just elected by her colleagues to lead the House Republican Conference, a job once held by Dick Cheney, Jack Kemp, and more recently, Speaker Boehner. The Conference is the primary line of communication on policy issues among all the House Republicans, who are the key to keeping a check on the Democrats in the White House and the Senate. As the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, she's been a key spokesperson in the debate over the Violence Against Women Act and the HHS contraception mandate. She's strongly pro-life, and her oldest child has Down syndrome. She's been responsible for recruiting dozens of other women with young children to run for office.
McMorris Rodgers's style is cautious and polite, and while she's a conservative, she's no extremist. The congresswoman from Washington state is a former small-business owner, and is married to a 26-year Navy veteran. Because she's a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, she'll be a key player in how the federal government will implement healthcare reform and how energy regulations will impact small businesses in the new year. As the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress, she really softens up the image of the House Republicans.
Kelly Ayotte is the junior senator from New Hampshire, one of only four female Republicans in the U.S. Senate. Like McMorris Rodgers, she is the mother of two and is married to a veteran; her husband runs a small business, which she helped launch before being elected. Running for Senate in 2010 was the first time she'd ever run for office; previously, she was appointed Attorney General of New Hampshire by a Republican governor, then reappointed twice by a Democrat. She comes across as smart and courteous but no-nonsense.
Because Ayotte is on the Senate Armed Services, Budget, Commerce, and Small Business Committees, she'll have her hands in just about every major issue Republicans will be facing this year. She's been front and center on the administration's botched handling of the murder of our ambassador in Benghazi. "She really is a rising star in the Republican Party," Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain told the Telegraph of Nashua, N.H. "I can see her being very seriously considered for both vice president, and certainly over time, for the presidential nomination. … Her rise in the Senate is probably the most impressive I've seen." Ayotte has said she's not interested in higher office, but there's good news: Her 8-year-old daughter Kate wants to be the first female president.
Nikki Haley is the governor of South Carolina, a mother of two, the daughter of immigrants, and her state's first female governor and first Indian-American governor. She's married to a National Guard officer and trained as an accountant, after keeping the books for her family's clothing business as a teenager. As a state legislator, she made a name for herself as a hard-charging fiscal conservative. Hanna Rosin of The Atlantic calls Haley "a self-styled reformer who explicitly took on, and defeated, the good ol' boys who run the Statehouse." Sarah Palin, who campaigned for her in the primaries, called her a "scrappy underdog," a reference to the discrimination and exclusion Haley has had to overcome.
Haley just made headlines for appointing Rep. Tim Scott to replace retiring Sen. Jim DeMint. Scott will be the first black Republican senator from the South since Reconstruction, and will be the only African-American in the Senate. Haley gets it that the Republican Party can't be led just by gray-haired white guys.