Republicans want more GOP women in office. Good luck with that.
The Republican Party, finally noticing a lack of lawmakers in their ranks with two X chromosomes, apparently is trying to elect more GOP women to Congress and state legislatures in 2020.
Actually, let’s restate that: Republican women are trying to elect more GOP women. The response from the the male leaders and the party as a whole? Meh, at best. GOP leaders are paying lip service to the idea that more Republican women should be elected. But when it comes to backing actual candidates, it’s a different story.
Given the fact that women vote more than men, both in percentages of eligible voters and in absolute numbers, it’s logical for Republicans to try to capture more of the women’s vote with more women candidates, especially after the dismal GOP results in 2018. But considering who’s at the top of the Republican ticket, they might have picked the wrong year to do it. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey reports that 62 percent of women say they’ll vote for the Democratic candidate over Donald Trump, and that’s bound to trickle down to the rest of the candidates.
Republicans have seen drops in support from white women, the majority of whom have voted Republican in the past. “College-educated white women swung Democratic by 10 points from 2016 to 2018, and non-college-educated white women swung Democratic by seven points,” according to a piece in The Nation. “The pool of women willing to embrace the Republican brand is shrinking.”
The 2018 midterm election saw a record number of women running for office. There were 235 women running for the House and 22 for the Senate. The winners were lopsided by party: When the votes were tallied, of the 127 women on Capitol Hill, only 21 were Republicans, and only 13 of those were in the House, down from 22 Republican women in the previous Congress.
Even worse (for Republicans, anyway), two of those 13—Alabama Rep. Martha Roby and Indiana Rep. Susan Brooks, the House Republicans’ recruitment chair—are retiring at the end of their current terms.
By all accounts, there will be more Republican women running in 2020. But they’re not getting much help from their male counterparts. When Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik relaunched Elevate Pac in reaction to women’s GOP losses in 2018, the response from Rep. Tom Emmer, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was, “I think it’s a mistake.”
They could be mighty disappointed the morning of Nov. 4, 2020.
NBC News reports that more Republican women are contacting groups that guide women candidates in running for office. Patti Russo, who runs the nonpartisan Women’s Campaign School at Yale University, sees high interest from GOP women.
“In the history of our school, we’ve never seen this before,” Russo told NBC News.
The school has received triple the number of applications from Republicans as last year, according to Russo, fueled by a surge in applicants yearning to take a more active role in the direction of the country and their party.
“They’re tired of being quiet, and they know they have a lot to give,” Russo said.
The school runs a five-day session each June. This year’s session attracted more than 500 applicants for 80 slots, Russo says, although she didn’t break down the applicants by party.
Emily’s List, which backs progressive women, saw a surge of interest for the 2018 election from Democratic women. While we’re months away from any 2020 primaries, Emily’s List has been contacted by more than 48,000 women in its Run to Win program since 2016.
Despite increased interest from Republican women, it’s a safe bet that there are still a lot more energized Democratic women than there are women GOP candidates. The Center for Women and American Politics at Rutgers University regularly updates a list of potential women candidates, either those who have filed or who have indicated an interest in running. By late August, Democratic women still far outnumbered Republicans: There were 322 Democratic women listed running for president, statewide office, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator. Only 128 Republican women made the same list.
But they’re trying. In October 2017, Republicans launched the Winning For Women Action Fund, hoping to become the GOP counterpart to Emily’s List. It’s described as “a GOP super PAC created for the sole purpose of electing more female Republicans in congressional races.” It has tapped some of the GOP’s biggest donors, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and mega-donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer. The WFW Action Fund has a goal of electing 20 Republican women to the House in the next election.
Another such group is Republican Women for Progress. It formed to work against Trump in 2016, even starting a Republican Women for Hillary group. The women in the group say they want to change the focus of the party, to deliver “our brand of modern, forward-thinking Republicanism.” As the group told NBC News:
The group’s nonprofit arm is now working with roughly 50 women across the country who are pursuing elected positions at all levels of government — local, state and national.
“We can’t keep up with all the folks reaching out to us,” co-founder Jennifer Pierotti Lim told NBC News.
“Without a doubt, it’s definitely more Republican women than I’ve ever seen be interested in running. They feel like this is the time to step up … Women are reaching out to us who feel displaced from the current party.”
Julie Conway, executive director of VIEW PAC (Value in Electing Women Political Action Committee), another group that supports Republican women candidates, said she has already met with as many as 85 women considering a bid.
“At this point in the 2017 cycle, it probably would have been a third of that,” Conway said, noting many of the women are looking to run in the competitive swing seats Republicans lost when Democrats seized control of the House in the midterm elections last year.
So there definitely will be more Republican women running in 2020, even though their numbers may be dwarfed by the number of Democratic women candidates. When are male GOP leaders going to follow through on supporting those GOP women running for office? With few exceptions, we could be waiting quite a while. NBC News talked to prospective candidate Anne Smith in Virginia, who described the frustration that such women face.
Smith, who describes herself as fiscally conservative and socially moderate, now feels like it’s the U.S. political system that’s broken — and her party is a part of the problem.
“I’m really frustrated with the Republican Party,” said Smith, 37. “It’s losing women voters, and it doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it.”
Smith said Trump’s controversial remarks about women haven’t made her question her party loyalty. Instead, they’ve actually strengthened her case for pursuing elected office now.
“It is disparaging and I can recognize that, but it’s not going to dissuade me from running,” she added. “In fact, I would just say there’s more of a reason to show that there are women who will stand up and be in the Republican Party.”
Consider the case of an Ohio Republican so frustrated by being shut out that she turned into a Democrat.
Emily Pelphrey ran for county prosecutor in her Columbus suburb, but did not secure her party’s nomination earlier this year. She said she was surprised by the lack of support from the county Republican Party during the campaign. But in the months since, she told NBC News, the president’s statements on race have made it impossible for her to support the Republican Party. In July, she reached out to volunteer for the Biden campaign.
“The GOP lost one more person,” Pelphrey, 43, told NBC News. “It really is the party of Trump now. And that’s not a party I want to be associated with.”
Like Pelphrey, many of the GOP hopefuls interviewed by NBC News said they were frustrated by the lack of support from the Republican Party, and some said they were actively discouraged from running by local party members or political consultants. These women said that they encountered concerns about female candidates being perceived as playing “identity politics.”
Here’s another recent example. After incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones Jr. died in February, North Carolina scheduled a special election for the 3rd Congressional District. Democrat Allen Thomas won the Democratic primary on April 30, but the top two Republicans were forced into a July 9 runoff after neither reached 30 percent of the vote.
The runoff pitted state Rep. Greg Murphy, a urologic surgeon, against Joan Perry, a pediatrician who has never held elective office. Both are conservative, anti-abortion, and in favor of Trump’s border wall.
Perry had the support of all 13 GOP women in the House, Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and Jones’ widow, Joe Anne Jones. The widow didn’t offer an official endorsement, saying only that she preferred Perry over Murphy, who happened to be her late husband’s personal physician (OUCH).
Murphy had backing from Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan of the House Freedom Caucus and several other GOP heavyweights: Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Women for Trump, Students for Trump, and the Tea Party Express.
Groups aiming to elect more GOP women spent a bundle on the runoff. The WFW Action Fund spent $900,000 trying to elect Perry. Women Speak Out, the partner PAC for the anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List, spent $310,000 on Perry’s behalf. On the Murphy side, an ad by House Freedom Action called Perry a “lying Nancy Pelosi liberal.”
Murphy won by nearly 20 points and is favored to win in the Republican-leaning district.
Democrats couldn’t resist rubbing in the fact that establishment Republicans blocked the way of a woman candidate. According to the News & Observer in Charlotte:
“(This) primary result in North Carolina is, sadly, yet another predictable and staggering blow to Washington Republicans’ attempts to add vital female voices to their caucus. With their toxic policy platform of higher health care costs and their utter failure to support female candidates, it’s no wonder Washington Republicans continue to repel women voters heading into the 2020 cycle,” said Melissa Miller, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a statement.
So Republican women, go ahead—launch your political careers. The more women involved in leadership, the better. But if you get shut out and you have a few progressive ideas, you might find out that you’re really Democrats.
Originally posted on Daily Kos on Sept. 1, 2019.