By Carrie Sheffield

Election Day 2018 was kind to women running for Congress -- for those who lean left. We Republican women were largely left out in the cold.

As Vox reported on Tuesday, "Come January, the number of women Republicans serving in the House will drop from 23 to just 13, the result of a Democratic wave election, some retirements, and several women who left to seek higher office (to varying degrees of success). The number of House Republican women is in shocking contrast to Democrats, who elected a record-breaking 35 new women to Congress, bringing up their total to 89."

The hard question remains: When will Republicans, who struggle at the ballot box with female voters, get serious about nominating, supporting and electing more female leaders?

"While we did not see parity in numbers across party lines [on Election Day], we do see women interested in getting politically involved every single day," said Rebecca Schuller, executive director of Winning For Women, which supports Republican women and is funded by wealthy GOP donors. "Many of them are interested in making a run one day. But in full frankness, we believe the Republican Party needs to commit to real change."

This is not for a lack of effort. Winning For Women is part of a constellation of GOP players, including RightNOW Women PAC, Susan B. Anthony List, Maggie's List, Women's Public Leadership Network and Maverick PAC's Maverick Women, looking to build conservative alternatives to the massively influential EMILY's List, which was instrumental in getting many Democratic women elected. We don't have anything nearly as powerful on the right.

Tiffany Waddell, chairwoman of RightNOW Women PAC, which helps support Republican women, told me she thinks the GOP needs to be more aggressive about recruiting strong female candidates. Women are far less likely to voluntarily run for office than men; they typically wait to be asked.

But by elevating smart GOP female candidates through tangible support and money, the party can attract more female voters. What's more, this will foster the creation of more policies that empower women, unlike those that encourage greater dependence on government and weaken women's abilities to get jobs, start businesses and live in peace and safety.

This is not the only change the GOP needs to make if it wants to start connecting with more women, however. It also needs to change its messaging.

Part of the strategy gap I see among many in the GOP is a goal of not pandering to anyone based on gender or race. While this is laudable -- our country was built on lofty ideals that spoke to universal, inherent human dignity (even if they weren't perfectly executed at first for non-property owning men, women and people of color) -- the party keeps losing the female vote.

Conservatives believe in a competitive marketplace of ideas, but if the GOP were a private-sector soft drink company targeting female consumers, its marketing team would rightly be fired by now.

So, how can the GOP both adopt universal, color and gender-blind campaigning while still being smart and effective in its branding and tone? In my view, Republicans, including President Trump, should follow the President's own advice: "I would like to have a much softer tone," President Trump told Sinclair Broadcasting Group just one day before Republicans lost the House. "I feel to a certain extent I have no choice, but maybe I do and maybe I could have been softer from that standpoint."

Republicans do have a choice in what we say. Even though President Trump is fighting unprecedented levels of acrimonious, liberal media bias, he and his party can and should stick to a positive, uplifting vision for the country -- one that is perfectly aligned with conservative ideals of free enterprise, strong defense and robust private civil society that unleash human prosperity; one that doesn't push away female voters.

Still, there were some silver linings for Republican women in the 2018 midterms. We saw the first Latina lieutenant governor of Florida (Republican Jeanette Nuez), the first female US senator from Tennessee (Republican Marsha Blackburn), the first female elected governor of Iowa (Republican Kim Reynolds) and the first woman elected governor of South Dakota (Republican Kristi Noem). And with the continued efforts of GOP leaders who have made elevating women within the party a priority, like Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who understands the challenge Republican women face running for office and has vowed to help support female primary candidates, we will hopefully see more of these firsts in the next election cycle.

While these wins are a solid foundation for conservative women heading into 2020, there is much room for improvement. And it starts with a change in messengers and tone.