As we learn more about the “cashflow challenge” at the Republican National Committee, we’re seeing more and more people stepping forward who may run for chairman Michael Steele’s job—despite the fact that he hasn’t announced his own re-election plans yet. (What he needs is face-saving outside job offer to appear soon, so that he can have a soft landing somewhere.) What’s interesting to me is that so far, two of those possible candidates are women.
There has only been one female chair of the RNC—Mary Louise Smith, who was appointed by President Ford in the wake of Watergate and served from 1974 to 1977. (Smith replaced George H.W. Bush, her predecessor who served at the height of Watergate then went on to be Ford’s choice as U.S. liaison to China.) When the party controls the White House, the president appoints the party chairman. But when the party is out of power, the members of the parties’ national committees elect a chair, as Republicans will this time. If a woman wins this January, it will be the first time the Republican Party has elected a woman as its leader.
So far, two women have shown interest: former ambassador and former RNC Co-Chair Ann Wagner, who just chaired Sen.-elect Roy Blunt’s winning campaign, and former RNC deputy chair Maria Cino, a longtime Republican operative who was political director for President George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign.
In the past, women have traditionally served only as co-chairs to the mostly all-male chairmen of the RNC an arrangement that I think should have gone by the wayside a long time ago. I bet I’m not the only one.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, the only woman to win a Senate seat last month, Kelly Ayotte of N.H., is a Republican; nine new Republican women, including one woman of color, will join the House of Representatives, breaking the previous record of seven female GOP newcomers in a single election. In fact, the Republican women’s caucus in the House will grow by 40 percent in January. All three new governors-elect are female Republicans, including two who won races against Democratic women. This cycle, a record number of Republican women ran in primaries for House, Senate, and gubernatorial races.
Women voters have long outnumbered men at the polls. President Obama won the women’s vote by 13 points in 2008; this year the Republicans won back nearly all of them, only one point behind in exit polls. Among House races, this year is the best Republicans have done with women since 1982, according to ABC News.
This year would be a great time to elect a strong woman to chair the GOP—and not just be relegated to co-chair. Of course, the RNC members could continue the tradition of electing a female co-chair but they might consider switching and have a man serve as co-chair, for once. He could call himself the Denis Thatcher of the Republican Party.
Republican women have a great story to tell right now, and the election results to go with it. The time has come for Republicans to elect a woman to lead the GOP.