Heavy loss by female candidate in Republican NC runoff sparks shock

Republican lawmakers expressed shock and disappointment at the heavy defeat suffered by a female candidate in a North Carolina primary runoff despite earning prominent endorsements and being backed by outside groups.

Dr. Joan Perry, a pediatrician running in her first election, lost by 20 points against state Rep. Greg Murphy in the runoff to be the Republican nominee to replace the late Rep. Walter JonesWalter JonesHillary Clinton brings up 'Freedom Fries' to mock 'cancel culture' Georgia officials open inquiry into Trump efforts to overturn election results Supreme Court declines to hear case challenging unlimited super PAC fundraising MORE (R) in North Carolina’s 3rd District. 

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Lawmakers said the scale of the loss highlighted the challenges faced by Republicans to recruit and get more female candidates elected after the number of female Republican lawmakers in the House dropped from 23 to 13 following last year's midterms.

Lawmakers and outside groups also vowed to reevaluate their recruitment strategy for female candidates at a time when Democrats elected a record number of female lawmakers last year, many in key suburban swing districts that Republicans would need to win back to regain the House in 2020.

Rep. Jackie WalorskiJacqueline (Jackie) R. WalorskiGOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto Stefanik shake-up jump-starts early jockeying for committee posts Loyalty trumps policy in Stefanik's rise, Cheney's fall MORE (R-Ind.) said she was “shocked” by the margin by which Perry lost the race, calling it a moment that brought into "stark reality" the challenges faced by female GOP candidates.

"It's just exceedingly difficult," she told The Hill about trying to close the GOP gender gap. "So we regroup, we find out where we were lacking, what the weaknesses were, and we address it."

Murphy had earned the endorsement of a slew of high-profile Republicans, including Freedom Caucus founders Reps. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsWatchdog urges Justice to probe Trump, Meadows for attempting to 'weaponize' DOJ Washington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 Trump to Pence on Jan. 6: 'You don't have the courage' MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanJordan acknowledges talking to Trump on Jan. 6 AP Fact Check rates GOP claim Pelosi blocked National Guard on Jan. 6 'false' Officers' powerful Capitol riot testimony underscores Pelosi's partisan blunder MORE (R-Ohio), after the legislator pledged to join the group if elected.

The House Freedom Action Fund, which is affiliated with the Freedom Caucus, spent $236,000 to defeat Perry in the contest. 

Former New York City Mayor and Trump confidant Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiCapitol insurrection hearing exposes Trumpworld delusions DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's riot lawsuit Bob Dole: 'I'm a Trumper' but 'I'm sort of Trumped out' MORE also threw his weight behind Murphy in the final days of the race, recording robocalls on behalf of the candidate. 

However, Perry was not without funds or endorsements. She ended up raising $373,851 for the primary and the runoff, below the $543,991 raised by Murphy.

But she had the backing of various Republican female PACs, including the Winning For Women Action Fund, which dropped more than $680,000 supporting Perry and opposing Murphy in the runoff.

And she had prominent endorsements, including the backing of all 13 women in the House Republican Conference and the widow of former Rep. Jones. Former House Speaker Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.) also recorded a robocall for her.  

Rep. Susan BrooksSusan Wiant BrooksThe tale of the last bipartisan unicorns Bold leadership is necessary to curb violence against youth Here are the three GOP lawmakers who voted for the Equality Act MORE (R-Ind.), the recruitment chairwoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said name recognition and low turnout in a special primary runoff had boosted Murphy.

Nonetheless, she acknowledged it brought forth the challenges of recruiting more women, especially given that state legislatures and local governments — where candidates often first cut their teeth — remain dominated by men.

“We have to, as a party, do better at the local level, whether it's getting women to step up and run for city councils, county commissioners, and then we have to, you know, really do more to help them at the state level, as state representatives, state senators and so forth,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

"And so that is, I think, part of our challenge," she added.

Brooks surprised other lawmakers after saying she would retire at the end of her term, though she said she would remain recruitment chair for House Republicans.

Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikStefanik calls Cheney 'Pelosi pawn' over Jan. 6 criticism GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger GOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto MORE (R-N.Y.) — who launched a PAC dedicated to helping GOP women in primaries — sought to focus on the positive aspects of Perry's loss.

Stefanik has been especially vocal about the GOP's need to recruit more female candidates, even at the primary level.

“Specials are tough," she told The Hill. "The good news is there was a lot of support for her, and other women candidates are seeing that there is a cavalry, there are members who are willing to play in these primaries.” 

“It's a challenge, but certainly, you know, I'm disappointed,” she added.

Outside groups also said they would need to reassess what went wrong in the North Carolina runoff but vowed to continue their recruitment efforts.

A spokesperson for Winning for Women said the organization is working to set up a meeting with party leaders and groups after Perry's loss on Tuesday but said it would continue to ramp up efforts to recruit more women candidates ahead of 2020, including in Brooks’s district. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyAfter police rip Trump for Jan. 6, McCarthy again blames Pelosi Capitol Police asked to arrest the maskless 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade MORE (R-Calif.) commended Perry despite her loss, saying it would not reduce the importance the party is placing on recruiting female candidates. 

“You look at Joan Perry, she was an amazing candidate, first-time candidate, pediatrician,” McCarthy told reporters at a press conference Wednesday. 

“The voters were able to make that decision, but she was able to make a runoff having never run before. I credit both of them in the campaign, the way they handled the campaign as well. Now, I think from the start having never run before, this was a great improvement, and I look forward to seeing more women elected in this Republican new Congress coming in.” 

Scott Wong contributed