Although largely unknown outside her district in eastern Washington state, Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers could be the next U.S. vice president.
First elected in 2004, McMorris Rodgers is now in her second term as vice chairman of the Republican Conference, which makes her the highest-ranking Republican woman on Capitol Hill. She has built a significant amount of behind-the-scenes clout, and has become one of her party’s most influential leaders on issues like international bailouts, earmark reform and the fight against Obamacare.
McMorris Rodgers also has the kind of compelling life story that political operatives always look for. The daughter of produce farmers who operated a fruit stand, she was the first member of her family to attend college. She earned her MBA from the University of Washington in 2002. By the age of 24, she was a member of the state House of Representatives.
Married to a retired U.S. Navy commander, McMorris Rodgers is also one of only eight women to have ever given birth while serving in Congress, and the only woman who has done it twice.
Her first child, Cole, was born a month premature and was diagnosed with Down syndrome. That experience led her to form a bipartisan Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus, which educates lawmakers about the disorder and aims to protect Americans who have it.
According to Kellyanne Conway, a veteran Republican strategist who was among the first to float Sarah Palin’s name as a possible VP pick in 2008, McMorris Rodgers might actually benefit from her relatively low profile.
The vice presidential selection, Conway told The Daily Caller, “needs to be a surprise but not a shocker.” (RELATED: Full coverage of the 2012 elections)
“Surprises can be compelling,” she continued. “Shockers” like Dan Quayle, the young Indiana Senator turned oft-mocked vice president, “compel the mainstream media to attack them because they don’t know them.”
Many big names have been floated for the Republicans’ vice presidential slot this year, but GOP candidates have tended more towards dark horse picks in recent decades — like Quayle, Palin and Dick Cheney. As a young conservative well known by the press if not the public, McMorris Rodgers is a contradiction: a familiar outsider, a seasoned political pro working just under the radar.
“She’s got conservative credentials, a compelling life story,” Conway, who has worked with McMorris Rodgers in the past, told TheDC. “It’s accepted wisdom in Washington, D.C. that it’s difficult to make time for family, and she turned that notion on its head.”
“She’s been a big help in making sure that the party and the leadership know that women are not an interest group but 53 percent of active voters,” Conway said. “That it’s important to understand them culturally and engage them politically.”
Having a vice presidential nominee from a western state could also be an asset on a Republican ticket, Conway argued.
“The West will be a battleground,” she said. “If you have somebody on the ticket from the western states, it might force Obama to spend more time out west when he’d really like to be in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and the Midwest.”
For now, though, McMorris Rodgers is staying coy about her vice presidential prospects.
“It’s hard for me to imagine the nominee would actually approach me, you know?” she told TheDC when asked whether she’d consider taking the job. “I think I’ll just leave it at that, and we’ll see where it goes.”