Jane Timken knows how to shatter a glass ceiling.
The U.S. Senate candidate became the first woman to run the Ohio Republican Party, rising to political prominence with the backing of former President Donald Trump. She spent years working behind the scenes for the state and Stark County GOP before launching her first election bid.
Now, she wants to be Ohio’s first female senator, joining a groundswell 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 as the Buckeye State lags behind others in electing women on both sides of the aisle.
“(Republicans have) still got a long way to go to catch up to Democratic women,” said Barbara Palmer, executive director of the Center for Women and Politics of Ohio at Baldwin Wallace University. “Here in Ohio especially, there are so few Republican women who run to begin with that even if we see an increase, it’s hardly a blip on the screen.”
The 2016 effect
The politics of gender has been front and center since 2016, when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton on the heels of revelations that he had boasted about grabbing women’s genitals. His victory emboldened liberal women to speak out and prompted millions of people to hit the streets worldwide after his inauguration.
That frustration crescendoed in the first two years of Trump’s presidency, leading to a record number of women elected to Congress and state legislatures in 2018. However, those gains were largely enjoyed by Democratic women — and conservatives took notice.
“A lot of Republican women who were in office 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 Rutgers University. “They weren’t happy with the narrative that the Republican Party is not a place for them.”
Fast forward two years, and Republican women experienced their own landmark election — 19 newcomers, including four women of color, set a new record for their numbers in Congress. That success can be attributed in part to organizations like Maggie’s List, which helps train female conservative candidates to run for the U.S. House and Senate.
It also signaled a desire to elevate a range of female voices in the post-#MeToo era.
“Women voters care about issues that affect all facets of life,” said Maggie’s List spokesperson Lauren Zelt. “They care about economic issues. They care about raising children in an increasingly unstable world.”
Women in Ohio
Observers say Ohio is falling behind other states when it comes to increasing the number of women in state and federal offices — and the partisan gap is stark.
Only three women — all incumbents and Democrats — won congressional seats in 2020 even though 18 ran in primaries, according to data from the Center for Women and Politics of Ohio. By contrast, states like Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia and Washington have fewer congressional seats but more women holding those offices.
Ohioans haven’t elected a Republican woman to the U.S. House since 2010.
Read More: Jane Timken, women vie for seats in Congress