The Republican Party will start another congressional term in January without a Black female lawmaker in its ranks.
A record 26 Black women were elected to Congress this month, and all are Democrats. Fourteen Black women who ran as GOP candidates lost their races, according to figures from the Center for American Women and Politics.
The outcome wasn’t entirely surprising. Of the Republicans, 13 ran in traditionally blue districts.
Still, the GOP’s failure to have a second Black woman win a seat in either chamber — former Rep. Mia Love (Utah) lost reelection two years ago — stands out in an election cycle where the party celebrated a record number of women winning on Nov. 3.
In an interview with The Hill, Air Force veteran Aja Smith, who ran against Rep. Mark Takano (D) in California’s 41st Congressional District for the second time this year, said a lack of support from national party leadership contributed to her defeat.
Smith said she and other Black Republican women don’t receive “as much publicity and acknowledgement from our own party” as other GOP candidates.
Smith said if the party had provided more support to her campaign, her race in the district, which had been represented by a Republican before Takano was elected in 2012, could have been more competitive.
“They could have made it more competitive with the messaging, getting people out there with phone banking, more door-to-door … I see that with the other districts that they feel more competitive, that’s the resources that they get,” she said. “But every district is competitive.”
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report listed as the district as “solid Democrat” heading into Election Day.
Carla Spalding, a registered nurse who ran in Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, said the party “didn’t come out and support [her campaign] at all” after she won the Republican primary in August.
Spalding suggested support could have helped make a difference in the general election, where she received roughly 42 percent of the vote.
“Based upon my race and the results, with little to no help, look what we accomplished,” she said.
Cook also listed the district as “solid Democrat.”
Susan Smith, an attorney who ran in Indiana’s 7th Congressional District, where Rep. André Carson (D) has served since 2008, said she also didn’t receive much support from national party leadership.
The Indiana Republican acknowledged that the GOP put a lot of resources toward holding onto the seat in the state’s 5th Congressional District, where outgoing Rep. Susan Brooks had served four terms. Those efforts ultimately proved successful, as Republican Victoria Spartz won that district with 50 percent of the vote in a race Cook had listed as a toss-up.
Smith said that while she understands the party has a strategy when it comes to which districts require more resources, if the party wants to bring a “more diverse community into Congress,” it takes “the NRCC to step out into those races.”
A spokesperson for the NRCC said in a statement that chairman Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) is “proud of the fact that of the dozen seats we have flipped so far, every candidate is a female, minority or veteran.”
The Hill also reached out to the Republican National Committee for comment.
Political strategist Shermichael Singleton, who worked on Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah)
2012 presidential campaign, as well as presidential bids by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), said more resources from the party in these races “could have improved” the candidates’ odds of winning but probably would not have changed the final outcome for candidates running in “heavily Democratic” districts.
Annette Davis Jackson, the lone Black GOP woman who didn’t run in a Democratic stronghold, was among those who competed in Georgia’s crowded special election for one of the state’s Senate seats.
Still, he said national committees send broader signals about the party with their support for certain candidates. Showcasing some level of “serious support” in these races, which he described as “money and resources and volunteers,” would have “at least shown that the party was serious about supporting African American candidates, regardless of how much of an uphill battle they would have faced.”
“I think that’s the fundamental problem, right? That the party just wrote them off because, one, the districts were just heavily D-leaning districts,” Singleton said. “But, nevertheless, even if they were, the party in my view should still make a concerted effort to try to target African American voters by supporting good African American candidates.”
Susan Smith and Spalding both said they think a lack of local media coverage of their races contributed to their projected losses.
“[Media coverage] just wouldn’t happen … no matter what we did. So, it was not voter suppression, but candidate suppression,” Smith said.
Spalding said the “biggest problem” she faced was “not having the publicity that is necessary to win” and claimed “the media … completely blocked” her.
“Even after I won,” she said, referring to the GOP primary, “they did not want to really even acknowledge that I existed. That’s very hard.”
Attorney Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy, who ran against Rep. Julia Brownley (D) in California’s 26th Congressional District, said she feels the “biggest” factor that led to her loss was being “a Black Republican.”
“People equate being a Republican just to the president. But I’m like, it’s a political party. There’s racism on both sides of the aisle,” she said. “Just because you’re a Democrat does not mean you’re not a racist. I’ve experienced racism from Democrats.”
Leah Wright Rigueur, an associate professor of American History at Brandeis University who authored “The Loneliness of the Black Republican,” said she thinks Black women who run as Republicans encounter hurdles faced by “no other group in the U.S.”
“I think they’re distinctly unique in that Black women are the least likely of any racial group or demographic group, period, to vote Republican. So, there’s an uphill battle there,” she said.
But she also noted that the candidates who ran in this cycle in particular faced “the challenge of running in spaces that are strongly Democratic and where, traditionally, Republicans just haven’t been able to get a foothold.”
One example is Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, where Kimberly Klacik faced off against Democrat Kweisi Mfume.
While Klacik secured the backing of prominent conservatives, including President Trump, and raked in millions in fundraising, much of it from out of state, according to The Baltimore Sun, she ended up losing the race by more than 40 percentage points.
During her campaign, Klacik garnered attention for a viral campaign ad in which she bashed Democratic Party leadership in Baltimore, as well as for her staunch support of Trump, who had prompted widespread criticism from Democrats last year for characterizing the district as a “very dangerous & filthy place” and calling its then-congressman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D), a “racist.”
“The kind of ideas that she needs in order to get attention from the Republican Party are ideas that are deeply unpopular within Democratic strongholds and/or Black communities,” Rigueur said.
“It’s a catch-22 for her,” she said, while noting that Black GOP candidates “who have been most successful have been ones who have been able to disentangle themselves from the overarching identity of the Republican Party.”
Rigueur also said Black Republican candidates are “far more successful in areas that are predominantly white,” and pointed to research she said shows “Black people tend to be harder on Black Republicans than on white Republicans who share the same exact outlook, and that’s because they view the Black Republican as a betrayal.”
The Republican Party has long struggled to make inroads with Black voters, despite promoting the GOP as the party that “freed the slaves.” African American support for the Republican Party at the ballot box started to wane around the late 1920s when the GOP rejected the fight for Black voters’ civil rights.
Trump saw a small increase in support from Black voters this year, but the demographic overwhelmingly backed President-elect Joe Biden.
“The view of the Republican Party by the majority of African Americans is just overwhelmingly negative,” Singleton said.
“One of the reasons Stacey Abrams, for example, has been so successful and what she has done isn’t just because she’s a Black woman … it’s because she has had continuous engagement with Black people,” he said.
Abrams, a Democrat who ran for governor in Georgia two years ago, has been credited in part with mobilizing enough votes to turn the Peach State blue in the presidential election.
“You gotta have that continuous engagement and it has to be prolonged … And the Republican Party has to understand that, by supporting candidates — a candidate who’s from those communities, number one, even if it’s an uphill battle — but continuously making an effort to showcase that they’re serious about having their footprint in those areas where, to be frank, Republicans just don’t go,” Singleton said.
After this year’s election, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) discussed the need for Republicans to rebrand, saying: “The future of the party is based on a multiethnic, multiracial working-class coalition.”
Susan Smith said she has seen some “baby steps” geared toward building diversity in the party at the state level, including a diversity leadership series being rolled out by her state party.
“But again,” she said, “with those baby steps, you have these moments where you could make a change and you fell back to the standard.”
“As Senator Rubio is talking about, there needs to be a push over that threshold,” she said.
Baldwin-Kennedy, who said she plans to run again in 2022, added that the GOP could appeal more to Black voters if it gets “off of the Old Guard Republican bandwagon.”
She also discussed a new organization she is working on with other Black Republicans dubbed “Black Republicans for Congress.”
“It’s a platform to help Black Republicans get elected with fundraising and sharing a strategist because a lot of Black Republicans that ran for Congress didn’t even have a strategist or a campaign manager or was able to raise funds,” she said.
“And so Black Republicans for Congress is going to be a platform to help do that and to give them an opportunity. Where the NRCC’s not doing anything, the Black Republicans for Congress are going to step in and fill that void,” she continued.