House Republicans are in danger of losing much of the diversity in their ranks made during the last election cycle.
Freshman lawmakers who provided modest gains to the GOP conference’s racial and gender diversity, like Reps. Mia Love (Utah), Will Hurd (Texas) and Carlos Curbelo (Fla.), are among the most endangered incumbents this year.
More than half of the 36 Democratic recruits currently identified by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) as the most competitive House candidates, meanwhile, are women and minorities. By contrast, Republicans have relatively few female or non-white new recruits running for the most contested seats.
But Republicans are fielding fewer recruits than Democrats since they’re largely defending incumbents this cycle to retain their historic 247-seat majority.
Democrats would have to flip 30 seats in order to retake the House majority, meaning there are far more districts where they’re on offense and looking for new talent.
Still, the pattern was on display last week as the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the House GOP’s campaign arm, released a list of 11 top-tier candidates for its “Young Guns” program that were mostly white and male.
Any gains in House representation of women and Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans after the November elections will likely come from the Democratic side, which already has more minority representation in its ranks than the larger House GOP.
Only 84 of 435 House members are women, of which just 22 are Republicans. All 10 Asian American lawmakers are Democrats, and just two of 43 African-Americans and six of the 29 Hispanic representatives are part of the GOP conference.
Republicans have tried to make strides in recruiting more diverse candidates. The Republican National Committee’s post-2012 election report that called for creating a more diverse coalition instead of relying as much on an older, whiter electorate specifically recommended recruiting more minority candidates.
“Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us,” the report stated.
But the recommendations of that report have largely fallen by the wayside this election cycle afterDonald Trump defeated the most diverse GOP presidential field in generations – including the likes of Ben Carson, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) – and rose to the presumptive nomination with help from mostly white and male voters.
Hispanic voters swung for President Obama over Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, and recent polls have shown Trump to be badly trailing Hillary Clinton among the critical voting bloc and faring worse with African-Americans.
Former Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), who’s served as a Hispanic surrogate for past presidential campaigns, suggested that inflammatory remarks from some Republicans about illegal immigration have made it harder to recruit Hispanic candidates, who may be reluctant to associate themselves with racially tinged controversy.
“Certain conservatives have made comments about ‘rounding up illegals’ and painting things in a more racial way, instead of a community safety way,” Bonilla said. “It certainly doesn’t help. …Rants and making comments that are not well thought-out can then take on a life of their own.
House GOP leaders touted the addition of diverse new freshmen two years ago like Love and Hurd, currently the only black lawmakers in their ranks, as well as Curbelo, one of the youngest Hispanic members currently serving in the House.
Republicans also pointed to a slate of new female lawmakers like Reps. Martha McSally (Ariz.), Barbara Comstock (Va.), Mimi Walters (Calif.) and Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
Yet all of those rising-star freshmen, save for Walters, face tough reelection races this year. McSally and Stefanik are considered somewhat less vulnerable, but their races are still competitive.
The GOP is already down three incumbent female House Republicans this year after Rep. Renee Ellmers (N.C.) lost her primary and Reps. Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) and Candice Miller (Mich.) decided to retire.
But a handful of the most competitive races feature female Republican candidates taking on Democratic incumbents. Denise Gitsham, whose mother is Chinese, is challenging Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and was named to the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program. Other “Young Guns” include Tonia Khouri, who’s running against Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and Amie Hoeber, who will face Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.).
There’s also Rebecca Negron, a Hispanic candidate who’s considered the leading Republican to contend for the open seat vacated by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) who is running for the Senate. Also in Florida, attorney Mary Thomas is running in the district currently represented by retiring Democrat Rep. Gwen Graham.
And in New York, state Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney won the GOP primary last week to compete for the open seat vacated by retiring GOP Rep. Richard Hanna.
Even so, many of those districts are expected to remain in Democratic control, limiting the opportunities to expand the number of House Republican women.
“We really need to work to elect fiscally conservative women to office,” said Missy Shorey, the national executive director of Maggie’s List, which works to elect female Republican candidates.
Democrats, Shorey said, have done a better job than Republicans of promoting female leaders in their ranks, which she argued helps encourage more women to run for office.
“Their leadership is really good about featuring them. People have to see themselves,” Shorey said. “Do we have some catching up to do? Yes.”