The November elections brought a GOP wave, but this was not exactly the Year of the Republican Woman. Voters added only two GOP women to the Senate and two to the House. (A third addition hinges on a recount.) And even with those four, the GOP in Congress remains something of a frat house: just 7% of House Republicans are women, compared with 33% of House Democrats.
It’s a gender imbalance that has some Republicans worried about how they would counter Hillary Clinton’s potentially historic run for President in 2016. The most talked-about female candidates on the right, including New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, have been discussed only as vice-presidential prospects. Other than Condoleezza Rice, it is difficult to name a single Republican woman on anyone’s short list. (And Rice’s close ties with a certain GOP dynasty make it unlikely that she would jump in if Jeb Bush runs.) It’s a sign of how shallow the female talent pool is that Iowa’s Joni Ernst, who was only just elected to the Senate on Nov. 4, is talked about as a possible No. 2.
But where some see challenges, at least one GOP woman sees opportunity. Carly Fiorina, 60, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and onetime Senate candidate in California, is actively recruiting staff, multiple GOP sources tell TIME. And she has agreed to appear at two candidate forums, one in Iowa in January and a second in New Hampshire in April, according to a close friend.
On the campaign trail in 2014, Fiorina never failed to mention how she rose from secretary to executive at AT&T and Lucent before heading Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005. Since losing the 2010 Senate race by 10 points to Barbara Boxer, Fiorina has led the American Conservative Union Foundation and started a super PAC focused on closing the candidate gender gap.
Republicans have never been very good at identity politics, a longtime California strategist notes, though 2016 could change that. But even if her run never gains traction, Fiorina could play a role in 2016. As the strategist put it, “The most effective way to criticize a woman is to have another woman do it.”
This appears in the November 24, 2014 issue of TIME.
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