The Stefanik Solution


Grey Olson, Writer

In 1916, Jeannette Rankin, a thirty-six-year-old hardscrabble rancher’s daughter, was pursuing one of Montana’s seats in the House of Representatives, campaigning everywhere from train stations and remote schoolhouses in a state nine years younger than her.  When November 7 rolled around, Rankin, a Republican, received the second highest number of votes in the state, flipping the seat and also becoming the first woman to serve in Congress, four years before the 19th Amendment was ratified.

104 years later, in America’s great annus horribilis, Republican women once again broke barriers for female representation in Congress, with 35 elected to the 117th Congress, a record amount for the party, and a result of a historic effort to support female candidates.  Particularly leading the migration from antiquity within the party was Rep. Elise Stefanik from New York’s 21st District, an area known as “North Country” stretching from Saratoga Spring to the Quebec border, where there are as many trees as registered voters.  Despite facing backlash from the sheepish old-guard wing of the party (particularly in Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota’s 6th), Rep. Stefanik was able to vanquish these untenable arguments when she put them under a magnifying glass.

The success of her efforts (and the overall down-ballot “red wave”) showcases the unique circumstances of the presidential election: a bombastic Queens native with a business empire, a complex history and a polarizing public persona up against a career politician with a million talking points and a voter base built on “settling” for him.  Considering the outcome of these congressional elections, it seems the presidential election was not a rejection of policy but of personality.

The women of this freshman class also were the ones who increased the Republican reach in the House, with officials ranging from first term to lifer being ousted by these women in noticeably tight races.  For example, in California’s 39th District, Rep.-elect Young Kim, one of the first Korean American women elected to Congress, ousted her opponent Gil Cisneros with a 4,000 vote lead out of 344,000 cast.  In Florida’s 27th District on the southern outskirts of Miami, the “solid blue” race was flipped in a surprising upset in favor of former Telemundo journalist Maria Elvira Salazar.

The Party’s downballot victories when charismatic newcomers ( in this case women) manage to win their nomination shows the party not only how, but why to avoid a Trump-like candidate in the next election and find the next Sarah Palin.