Kat Cammack was raised on a cattle ranch by a working class single mother. She was the third generation of her family to go into business as a sand blaster. And at 32, she is about to become the youngest Republican woman in the US Congress.
Of the 12 seats in the House of Representatives that Republicans have flipped from Democratic control so far this year, nine were won by women, two by Latino men and one by an African American man. The trend represents a conscious effort by a party still dominated by white men: diversify or die.
Cammack argues that the Republican party was a natural choice for her after watching her mother try to run a small business while fending off intrusions from big government, and after the family lost their small cattle ranch in 2011 “due to an Obama-era housing programme”.
She recalls: “That was really the turning point in my life where you find yourself homeless, you had a life plan and all of a sudden that is completely out the window and you have to make a choice. Do I put my head back in the sand? Do I rebuild my life and keep going down the path that I had envisioned for myself? Or do I do a hard right and get involved and try to fix the system?”
A vocal supporter of Donald Trump, Cammack believes that Republicans’ pitch as the party of equal opportunity, not equal outcome, struck a chord whereas Democrats pushed a “government will take care of you” narrative and took some groups for granted. “Biden had several gaffes: most notably he said, ‘If you don’t vote Democrat then you’re not Black.’ What kind of ridiculous nonsense is that?
“In 2016, I took heat from the left that because I was a young woman and I wasn’t supporting Hillary Clinton, I was a traitor of some sort. That is the most un-American, stereotypical sexist, racist nonsense I’ve ever heard. You should never discount someone’s individuality and basically say that they can only vote one way or for one party because they check a box.”
When Cammack met other newly elected members of Congress earlier this month and swapped notes about their winning campaigns, she recalled, they all cited issues such as healthcare, the coronavirus and the economy. “We never once went out and said, ‘Vote for me because I’m a woman,’ or ‘Vote for me because I’m a millennial’.
“It was always, ‘Vote for me because I’m the best person for the job and here’s why,’ and that is what is resonating with people. I think this narrative that if you are African American or if you are a minority or if you’re a woman you have to vote Democrat couldn’t be further from the truth and the results from this election prove that.”
The Republican recruitment drive is starting from a low base. Eighteen months ago, just 13 of the party’s 197 House members were women. By contrast, 89 of 235 House Democrats were women and nearly 90 were Black or Latino. There is only one Black Republican in the Senate: Tim Scott of South Carolina.