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.

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