When Valerie Ramirez Mukherjee meets voters in her district, they are surprised to learn that a woman with her name and background isn’t a Democrat.
Ramirez Mukherjee, 47, the daughter of a Slovenian mother and a Mexican father, and the wife of a first-generation Indian American, said her name and “triracial household” have opened up an opportunity to reach voters who normally wouldn’t give a Republican the time of day.
“They’re used to one-syllable names like Mike, Bob and Dole,” she said of Illinois’s 10th Congressional District, where she’s running. It’s nearly 10 percent Asian, 7 percent Black and includes many of the northern suburbs of Chicago. “That’s been fantastic for me. People open their ears, they listen about why I chose the Republican Party.”
The former finance and technology executive is hoping to unseat incumbent Democrat Rep. Brad Schneider in a district that last voted for a Republican in 2014 — perfect purple data that made her and her local Republican Party chapter bet that she could win.
Ramirez Mukherjee is among the increased number of Republican women running for congressional seats this election cycle, 33 of whom are women of color, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
Democrats made up the vast majority of the historic wave of women elected to Congress in 2018. This year’s expanded number of Republican women vying to work in Washington may be a response to the success witnessed by their Democratic counterparts, according to Sergio Garcia-Rios, assistant professor of government and Latino studies at Cornell University.
“They are not waiting to be asked to run,” he said. “They know they can ask themselves to be included.”
Most candidates say they know more work must be done within their party, but they hope their runs are a move toward making the Republican Party more reflective of America’s diversity.
“There are many Republicans in hiding or those who just don’t know they are [Republicans],” Ramirez Mukherjee said, adding that her own Republican awakening came from working her way out of a crime-ridden California neighborhood, putting herself through college and volunteering for former congressman Bill Baker in her home state.
Fellow Latina Republican Anna Paulina Luna, 31, is running to represent Florida’s 13th Congressional District. The Air Force veteran snagged an endorsement from President Trump in August and says her willingness to go knock on doors where people aren’t used to seeing candidates like her at their doorstep is an example of what the Republican Party needs to be doing more of to reach more people of color.
Like their campaigns, these women are outliers when it comes to the Hispanic electorate: 67 percent of Hispanic women identify as Democrats compared with 58 percent of Hispanic men, according to Pew Research Center.
While it can seem strange for political observers to see Latinas hold red flags for Trump’s party when so many have been deeply impacted by his administration’s immigration policies and handling of the coronavirus, that also dismisses the complexities of the Latino identity, said Christopher Stout, associate professor of political science at Oregon State University.
And while most Latinos tend to lean Democrat, few groups have been as loyal to the Democratic Party as Black Americans, especially Black women.
“It’s always been the tension but what’s different now, I think, is feeling like the Democrats have had Black voters captive for so long and have failed to understand this nuance,” Nadia E. Brown, a professor of African American studies at Purdue University, said.
Many of the Black Republican women running for office say they were raised in homes with large family Bibles resting on living room tables, prayers before meals, and with parents and grandparents who served in the military.
Those reasons have spawned Black Republican female candidates in California like Tamika Hamilton, running for a U.S. House seat in the state’s 3rd District, Aja Smith in the 41st District and Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy in the 26th District. If elected, they could all stand the chance to be the first Black Republican woman to represent the Golden State in Congress.
Their runs, along with other candidates like them, contrast the typecast role of Black women as faithful stalwarts critical for Democratic success. Their campaigns instead center on their interest in free market values and biblical principles. In their stump speeches, given in majority-White, liberal districts, they largely do not mention their race.
Hamilton, 36, was raised conservative and served 14 years active duty in the Air Force. She says her identity as a Republican exists outside Trump.
“I can’t help who is president,” she said.
Baldwin-Kennedy says while the party hasn’t taken Black voters and candidates seriously in the past, the next generation of Republicans is poised to change that.
“I think the Republican Party gave up on Black vote,” the attorney and mother, said. “But we’re going to take this party. We’re going to see a bigger turn and bigger push running for Republican tickets.”
Many women shared that while they haven’t received national support for their campaigns, they have instead gained bolstering from their local chapters. That absence of national assistance is likely because many are in seemingly unwinnable districts. But that creates a cycle, Garcia-Rios, the Cornell professor, said.
“They’re not going to be competitive if they’re not supported,” he said, adding that the national Republican Party appears to not be interested in cultivating and growing the profiles of women of color.
Any run for office allows the candidate to bolster their profile, which is an opportunity the Republican Party should be seizing for candidates of color, experts say.
Ramirez Mukherjee, who self-identifies as a moderate, says there is room for more women of color like her in the Republican Party.
“There will be a different Republican Party leadership,” she said.