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GOP recruitment goal: More women on ticket

GOP recruitment goal: More women on ticket
© Greg Nash

House Republicans added just two new female members in the last election as the party struggled to recruit women to run for office.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) wants to change that in 2018.

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Stefanik, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and one of the party’s rising stars, has been tapped to lead recruitment efforts for the House GOP’s campaign arm. 

She told The Hill that one of her top priorities is to recruit a more diverse slate of candidates for the next election.

“I think the more women we have in leadership positions, the more women will see examples, can see themselves in those roles. So I think being in the leadership role of chairing recruitment is a step in the right direction,” Stefanik said.

The 32-year-old congresswoman from upstate New York just won reelection for a second term in a competitive district. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the new chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), installed her as head of candidate recruitment, making her the first woman to ever hold that position.

Stivers didn’t have to talk Stefanik into taking the NRCC position; she had pitched him on the idea. 

The underrepresentation of women has long been a sore spot for Republicans. There are only 21 women in the 241-member House GOP conference, compared to 62 women among the 194 Democrats. 

The new Congress is the most diverse in history, but that’s mostly because of Democrats, even though they’re in the minority in both the House and Senate.

Democrats have the advantage of a longstanding centralized effort to recruit and support female candidates in the form of EMILY’s List, which was founded in 1985. 

Republican organizations to support female candidates exist, but they don’t have the same level of prominence as EMILY’s List, nor have they been around as long.

Maggie’s List was founded by a group of conservative women in 2010; Value in Electing Women (VIEW) PAC in 1997; and RightNOW Women PAC in the 2014 election cycle. The NRCC has also had a women’s engagement program, led in 2016 by Rep. Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackBottom line Overnight Health Care: Anti-abortion Democrats take heat from party | More states sue Purdue over opioid epidemic | 1 in 4 in poll say high costs led them to skip medical care Lamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee MORE (R-Tenn.).

Stefanik says she wants to build on the “ecosystem” of GOP groups working to recruit female candidates. That’s an encouraging message for those organizations.

“The fact that it’s a woman who is a conservative who is going to be in charge of recruitment effort? That’s important, because we need to boost those numbers,” said Missy Shorey, the executive director of Maggie’s List. “When they see Elise, they see: She did it, now I can do it.”

Part of the challenge in recruiting women is that they tend to need more encouragement than their male counterparts to run for office. 

Stefanik recalled reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” around the time she decided to run in 2013 for an open House seat. One passage stood out to her: Sandberg explains that studies show men typically think they’re qualified for a promotion if they meet at least some of the requirements, while women tend to be perfectionists and are more likely to think they aren’t ready yet. 

It’s a familiar experience to anyone dedicated to bringing more women into politics.

“I love the guys. They just go wing it,” Shorey said. “Whereas a woman who’s making massive change at a local school board level, for example, hadn’t thought about that.”

To that end, Stefanik wants to connect female candidates with incumbent House Republican women to provide support. She cited the example of help she got from Black and Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) during her contested 2014 primary campaign. 

“I think that is important to help build those conversations, because oftentimes women need to be asked and encouraged to run. And having those conversations with members is critical,” she said.

“As a woman candidate myself, I know how important it was to be encouraged to run, to think outside of the box.”

Stefanik’s promotion in the NRCC is part of a pattern this year of more House GOP women taking on leadership roles.

Black is serving as interim chairwoman of the House Budget Committee while incumbent Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) awaits confirmation as President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHouse votes to condemn Chinese government over Hong Kong Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at age 93 White House readies for Chauvin verdict MORE’s secretary of Health and Human Services. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Money: Senate confirms Gensler to lead SEC | Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week | Top Republican on House tax panel to retire Trump faces test of power with early endorsements Lobbying world MORE (R-Wis.) appointed Rep. Susan BrooksSusan Wiant BrooksBold leadership is necessary to curb violence against youth Here are the three GOP lawmakers who voted for the Equality Act Bottom line MORE (R-Ind.) to chair the House Ethics Committee, while Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxHouse passes bill to prevent violence in health care workplaces House passes bill to combat gender pay gap Republicans argue school accountability waivers overstep Education secretary authority MORE (R-N.C.) is the first woman to lead the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

That’s three times as many women in chairmanships compared with the last session of Congress, when now-former Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) was the lone chairwoman at the low-profile House Administration Committee.

At the subcommittee level, Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults can get vaccine; decision Friday on J&J vax Biden to hold second meeting with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructure Bottom line MORE (R-Texas) won the coveted chairmanship of the panel within the House Appropriations Committee that oversees the nation’s defense spending. She secured the post over Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who had hoped for some kind of gavel after being term-limited as the full Appropriations Committee chairman.

House GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersHouse Republicans circulate memo on legislative concepts targeting Big Tech Democrats press Facebook on plans for Instagram for kids GOP lawmakers press social media giants for data on impacts on children's mental health MORE (R-Wash.), however, is the only woman in elected leadership.

Recruiting more women to run in 2018 will be crucial if House Republicans want to at least keep the same level of female representation in their conference. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) is running for governor of her state, and Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), who just vacated her position as conference vice chairwoman, may do the same.

Still others, like Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), could decide to leave the lower chamber and run for Senate.

The elections of freshman Reps. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) weren’t enough to replace all of the outgoing House GOP women, meaning their numbers are down one from the last session. 

But Stefanik is encouraged by the number of women already reaching out to the NRCC who say they’re interested in running for the House, though she declined to offer a specific count.

“That’s exciting to me. That means we’re moving the needle,” she said.