GOP doubles female recruits for congressional races

Greg Nash

House Republicans have doubled the number of female candidates they have recruited to run for congressional seats this year as they seek to hold their majority and counter accusations of a gender gap with Democrats.

There are 103 Republican women, including incumbents, running for House seats this election — up from 48 in the previous election cycle, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

The recruitments could be crucial in a year where the majority is likely to be decided in suburban swing districts where college-educated women and independent voters form a crucial voting bloc.


Democrats have been busy attracting candidates in those districts, too, as the #MeToo movement and furor surrounding President Trump’s policies energizes the left.

“The number of female candidates on the Republican side doubling is not an accident,” said Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist. “That is a result of a disciplined effort to recruit strong female candidates, both from the party directly, but also from outside groups that believe female candidates give them a better chance to hold, and perhaps expand, their majority.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the youngest female member ever elected to Congress and a rising GOP star, is getting credit for the record-breaking recruitment efforts.

After House Republicans struggled to add female members to their ranks in the last election cycle, Stefanik, 33, was tapped to lead candidate recruitment for the House GOP’s campaign arm, becoming the first woman to ever hold the position.

Some of the most hotly contested House seats this election cycle feature women running on the right, including the races to replace retiring Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Dave Trott (R-Mich.).

“We’ve seen an intense level of interest from Republican women in running for Congress this cycle, and some of the strongest candidates we have running currently are females in competitive districts,” said Jesse Hunt, national press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “It’s a testament to their backgrounds, their careers, and their ability to communicate the Republican message.”

The GOP still lags far behind the Democratic party, which has seen a record-breaking surge of 305 Democratic women run for House seats this year, including incumbents.

And Republicans have an extra need to step up their recruitment of women candidates given the shrinking number of GOP women in the House.

Six female Republicans have decided to either retire or seek higher office, which would reduce the number of GOP women in the House by 25 percent.

Fixing the underrepresentation of women in the GOP is seen as an almost existential issue.

“Republicans cannot perform poorly with women and continue to be a majority party in the country,” Mackowiak said.

Democrats have the advantage of a long-standing 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 to serve as a counter to EMILY’s List, while Value in Electing Women PAC was started in 1997 and RightNOW Women PAC was founded in the 2014 election cycle.

But Missy Shorey, national executive director of Maggie’s List, says the eight-year-old organization has increasingly seen more Republican women interested in running for office and that fewer of them need encouragement to do so — which has long been the biggest barrier to recruitment efforts.

Part of the reason, she says, is that women are now able to witness other prominent female Republicans who are able to balance their busy congressional careers with other duties, like being a mother.

Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), for example, was connected with House GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), a working mom and the only female member of leadership, before she came to Congress.

Maggie’s List has now endorsed 49 House, Senate and state-wide candidates this election cycle — a record-high for the organization. That includes Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), who recently won a closely-watched special election in Arizona; State Del. Carol Miller, who emerged from a crowded primary field to clinch the GOP nomination for West Virginia’s 3rd District; and GOP businesswoman Lena Epstein, who co-chaired Trump’s campaign in Michigan.

Shorey, however, stressed that it’s about the quality, not quantity, of the female candidates — and knowing when someone is a good fit for a race.

“Does she have a path to victory? And does she have a background that will lend itself to victory as well? Those things have to be there,” Shorey said. “Then you encourage that woman, help them raise money and endorse them in a public way.”

GOP candidates will be facing strong headwinds this fall, when some are predicting that backlash to Trump — and his record with women — will lead to a blue wave.

One way to counteract that, according to GOP strategists, is to have more female candidates on the ticket, which can help reach women and independent voters who may be turned off by Trump.

“Women candidates often have an advantage in trying to win the votes of women,” Mackowiak said. “Women can access independent voters and mobilize and earn their support in some cases where men can’t.”

While Democrats may try to tie female Republicans to the president on the campaign trail, some GOP women will be more than happy to embrace him.

“If you’re looking for a case study in President Trump being a positive motivating factor for women running, Lena Epstein is an outstanding example,” Shorey said. “She’s very proactive and intense and lovely, and she’s a very serious competitor there.”

“And because she wants to see the president agenda’s advance,” Shorey added, “that’s why she’s running.”

Tags Cathy McMorris Rodgers Dave Trott Donald Trump Ed Royce Elise Stefanik Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Martha Roby

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