While the Republican National Committee brass writes autopsies for the party’s 2012 losses and GOP lawmakers in Congress fight with each other over who's a true conservative and who's a wacko bird, a new generation of Republican women is breathing new life into the Grand Old Party. Here, nine GOP women with the potential to revitalize the right. If you haven't heard of them yet, you will.
1. Susana Martinez
If asked to name a tough, charismatic Republican governor in a blue state, most people might say Gov. Chris Christie. But make that a female Hispanic chief executive with approval ratings consistently above 60 percent and you'll get Susana Martinez, the make-it-work governor of New Mexico whom national Republican strategists see as a star in the making. The former district attorney's record crosses the political spectrum: she approved a state health-care exchange for New Mexico, has worked to take driver’s licenses away from illegal immigrants, required DNA sampling for all felony arrests, and pushed school reforms over the objections of union leaders. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most powerful people in the world, but she says she still shops at Ross Dress for Less and grabs Taco Bell when she can. For a party with problems wooing women, Latinos, and average Joes, it's hard to imagine a woman better suited to win over all three groups for the GOP.
2. Rebecca Kleefisch
There's nothing like a national media frenzy to kick off your first days on the job, but that's what Rebecca Kleefisch faced when she won election as Scott Walker's lieutenant governor in Wisconsin in 2010. Walker immediately took up a battle with union leaders over collective bargaining, but at the same time, Kleefisch was undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. Kleefisch survived her battle with cancer and made it through the recall effort that followed Walker's union wars. That toughness got the 38-year-old noticed by national conservative leaders, who invariably call the pro-life Kleefisch "courageous" and say the former TV anchor and stay-at-home mom has a major future ahead of her. As former representative Marilyn Musgrave of the Susan B. Anthony List told The Daily Beast, "She's definitely one to watch."
3. Pam Bondi
After Pam Bondi was sworn in as Florida attorney general in 2011, she wasted no time leading the charge against the Affordable Care Act in a 26-state lawsuit against it. That move made the career prosecutor a hero on the right and buttressed the hard-charging reputation she earned after successfully suing BP and Halliburton for $5.4 billion for damages following the Deepwater Horizon spill. Back then, she vowed that the corporations "will be held accountable." The pro-life Bondi ran in a crowded primary field for AG, including against the lieutenant governor, but a last-minute endorsement from Sarah Palin—and a number of other women on this list—helped her break away from the pack. She's now the first woman to hold the AG job in Florida and recently announced she's running for reelection—but that hasn't stopped fellow Republicans from predicting Bondi will rise higher soon enough.
4. Martha Roby
She's got a sweet Southern accent and just three years of seniority in the House, but Alabama's Martha Roby has already gained a reputation in Washington as a real-deal legislator and go-to for the GOP leadership. Conservative activists call her a "rock star," thanks to her sponsorship of a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Not that the 37-year-old mom of two is willing to please everybody all the time: at a recent town hall meeting, she said she won't vote to shut down the government over Obamacare, telling a constituent, "I'm never going to look you in the eye and tell you something I don't believe in." That honesty alone sets her apart from most of her colleagues in Congress.
5. Mia Love
Love lost her race to unseat Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson in 2012 by fewer than 800 votes, but like any up-and-coming prizefighter, she wants a rematch. For anyone not paying even a little attention during the last election, Love is the Haitian Mormon mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, a mother of three, and the breakout star of the Republican National Convention last summer. National Republicans want to see Love succeed and have tapped her for Project GROW, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s effort to elect more women to the House. But Love, who is pro-life and pro-gun and a fitness and running fanatic, is doing the legwork of the campaign herself, raising nearly $500,000 in the last three months alone.
6. Erika Harold
If a former Miss America and Harvard-trained lawyer doesn't get your attention, maybe the unmitigated crap this woman is taking from some of the men in her own party will reveal the tenacity she's using to unseat a fellow Republican in Illinois's 13th Congressional District. For having the gall—some would call it courage—to run against her party's establishment, Harold, 33, has been called Miss Queen, "a love child," and "a streetwalker" whose "pimps are the Democrats," all by a local GOP chairman. A Weekly Standard article written to praise her for her very real political skills also noted with surprise that she "wasn't beautiful," and, "also, she was short." Memo to Republicans: just stop it. And let Harold help you help yourselves.
7. Nicole Malliotakis
The daughter of Cuban and Greek immigrants, the 32-year-old Malliotakis is the only Republican woman elected to any office in New York City. The Staten Island–born Malliotakis still takes a distinctly New York City approach to her job in Albany, trying to save senior centers and bus routes for her district and introducing a bill to regulate day spas that are really fronts for sex trafficking. Her old-school legislative work has gotten her noticed as a young, rising talent nationally, making Malliotakis one of two women on the American Conservative Union's “10 Under 40” list and landing her a coveted speaking role at conservatives' annual CPAC confab this year.
8. Martha McSally
She's the first female fighter pilot in American history to fly combat missions and the first to command a combat squadron, as the first line of her bio proudly reads. Which means Martha McSally is likely ready for the fight she'll face in a rematch against Rep. Ron Barber, the Democratic incumbent who beat her in 2012 by less than 1 percent for Arizona’s Second Congressional District. In this Arizona district, Republicans see a major pickup opportunity, while Democrats see a tribute to their beloved former colleague Gabby Giffords, who once represented it. National Republicans also see major potential in McSally, who piloted the A-10 Warthog in more than 100 missions over Iraq and holds degrees from the Air Force Academy and Harvard. The Cook Political Report calls the race "a pure toss-up," and Republicans call McSally "one of the most promising candidates this cycle."
9. Beth Fukumoto
The 28-year-old Fukumoto has served in the Hawaii House for less than a year, but she's already been tapped as the Republicans' minority floor leader and selected by the RNC in Washington to showcase its Women on the Right Unite program to elect more conservative women to office. Fukumoto is also part of what Republicans in the deep blue state of Hawaii call a youth movement, hoping that a group of young, fresh, diverse lawmakers, including Fukumoto, can rejuvenate the ailing party and inject it with fresh life, new voters, and a few statewide victories. Sound familiar? If Fukumoto is successful in Hawaii, a few Republicans in Washington are hoping she'll bring her talents to the mainland.