Jane Timken knows how to break a glass ceiling.
The U.S. Senate candidate became the first woman to lead the Ohio Republican Party, achieving political prominence with the backing of former President Donald Trump. She spent years working behind the scenes for Stark County State and GOP before launching her first election candidacy.
Now she wants to be Ohio’s first senator, joining a wave of conservative women fighting for a seat at the table. But Timken’s candidacy comes as Republicans struggle to diversify their representation in Congress – and Buckeye State lags behind others in electing women on both sides of the aisle.
“(Republicans have) a long way to go to catch up with Democratic women,” said Barbara Palmer, executive director of the Center for Women and Politics of Ohio at Baldwin Wallace University. “Here in Ohio in particular, there are so few Republican women showing up to begin with that although we see an increase, it’s hardly a blip on screen.”
The 2016 effect
Gender politics have been at the forefront since 2016, when Trump beat Hillary Clinton over revelations he bragged about grabbing women’s genitals. Her victory encouraged liberal women to speak out and prompted millions of people to take to the streets around the world after her inauguration.
This frustration increased during the first two years of Trump’s presidency, leading to a record number of women elected to Congress and state legislatures in 2018. However, these gains were widely appreciated by women Democrats – and conservatives. took note of it.
“Many Republican women who were in power or politically engaged were disturbed by the outcome of the 2018 election, where Republican women actually lost ground,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at the ‘Rutgers University. “They weren’t happy with the story that the Republican Party isn’t a place for them.”
Fast forward two years, and Republican women enjoyed their own historic election – 19 newcomers, including four women of color, set a new record for their numbers in Congress. This success can be attributed in part to organizations like Maggie’s List, which helps train conservative candidates to run for the United States House and Senate.
It also signaled a desire to uplift a range of female voices in the post- # MeToo era.
“Women voters care about issues that affect all facets of life,” said Lauren Zelt, spokesperson for Maggie’s List. “They care about economic issues. They care about raising children in an increasingly unstable world.”
Observers say Ohio lags behind other states when it comes to increasing the number of women in state and federal offices – and the partisan gap is glaring.
Only three women – all outgoing and Democrats – won congressional seats in 2020 even though 18 ran for the primaries, according to data from the Center for Women and Politics of Ohio. In contrast, states like Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia and Washington have fewer seats in Congress but more women in those positions.
Ohioans have not elected a Republican woman to the United States House since 2010.
Palmer said gerrymandered congressional districts have made it difficult for women, people of color and other under-represented groups to take office. She also argues that states parties have not prioritized recruiting women, despite rhetoric to the contrary, because they mistakenly believe that men are more likely to win.
However, Palmer believes there may be greater opportunities for Ohio women running for public office after the state issues new district cards later this year.
“It doesn’t take much for the change to happen very quickly,” she said. “What is needed is someone in a position of power to make recruiting and electing women a priority.”
At the state level, women make up about a third of the legislature, unless they represent the 51% that makes up Ohio’s population. But only 21% of Republican seats in the House and Senate are held by women – who are exclusively white – compared to 51% on the Democratic side.
State Representative Allison Russo D-Upper Arlington, who is also a candidate for the 15th Congressional District race, said the GOP’s focus on Culture Wars has alienated women from Ohio, especially those in the suburbs.
“We’re talking about issues that really affect and impact families and other women – things like can you afford health care, can you access high paying jobs? ” she said.
“An optical problem”
Republican candidates challenge the claim that Democrats have a grip on issues that affect women.
Ruth Edmonds, who is also running in the 15th arrondissement, said conservative women were wrongly labeled as weak and submissive. She said right-wing women have been pressured to run for office because they believe their families and their country are threatened by liberal policies and debates on issues such as the critical race theory that does not have no “end of game”.
“We have innate skills that I think our country needs today, so it’s important to have strong women and women – women of faith, who have character and integrity, who are guided by principles and ethics – to be in leadership right now, ”said Edmonds.
Timken describes himself as someone who will not sit on the sidelines and has said job losses, border unrest and increased federal spending motivated her to run for the Senate. She doesn’t define her candidacy by gender, she said, and wants voters to judge her policies and leadership skills at the polls.
Nonetheless, Timken believes that it is essential for women to step into public service as they are valued members of their families and communities.
“Frankly, women are in the trenches and doing a lot of the work for the party and the Conservative candidates,” she said.
Looking ahead to 2022, Rutgers’ Walsh said conservative women running for office face the same question as their male counterparts: How much can I align with Trump? But female candidates must also fight against a Republican party that has been slow to adopt an identity policy and promote elected officials who reflect the electoral population, she said.
“I think the party figured out they had an optics problem,” Walsh said.