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GOP Struggles With Fundraising for Women's Initiatives | Rules of the Game

Capito raised more than her opponent in the race for Senate in West Virginia. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s been a promising year for Republican women who have set out to fix their party’s “woman problem,” but not good enough for their bank accounts.  

Republicans launched a new crop of super PACs, recruitment programs and messaging campaigns to boost the GOP's female candidates and win over women who vote. The latest such effort, an unrestricted super PAC unveiled in June by former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, cleared $1 million in its first four weeks.  

“We cannot permit liberal orthodoxy to marginalize women or suppress their enthusiasm for our candidates,” declared Fiorina, chairwoman of the American Conservative Union Foundation, in the mission statement for her new Unlocking Potential Project. The Unlocking Potential PAC’s top donors last month were Marmik Oil Co. President Michael Murphy and his wife, Arkansas designer Sydney Murphy, who each gave $500,000. But female Republican fundraisers, PAC organizers and candidates remain badly outgunned by their Democratic counterparts, particularly in Senate contests. Democratic women in this midterm’s most competitive Senate races uniformly raised more than their GOP opponents. Polls in the Colorado, Iowa , Kentucky , Michigan, New Hampshire and North Carolina Senate races all show sizable gender gaps.  

And controversies related to women seem to keep dogging the GOP. The Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling granting religious employers an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate gave Democrats fresh fundraising fodder. The ruling helped push receipts at EMILY’s List, the Democratic women’s political action committee, to well more than a half-million dollars in June alone, the group’s biggest haul in any month this year. The ruling has sparked proposed legislative fixes on both sides of the aisle.  

“That is a huge motivator, both for voters and for donors,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky said about the Hobby Lobby ruling, “and Republican Senate candidates are on defense about it — especially in Colorado.”  

Incumbent Democrat Mark Udall leads GOP Rep. Cory Gardner in the Centennial State, thanks in part to a 12-point edge among female voters, according to a recent NBC/Marist poll .  

Even erstwhile GOP Senate hopeful Todd Akin, whose notorious comments suggesting that “legitimate rape” does not lead to pregnancy contributed to the GOP’s failure to win control of the Senate in 2012, has riled Republican leaders all over again.  

In a defensive new book , Akin argues his real mistake was not making the “rape” comment, but apologizing for it. Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, who arguably held onto her Senate seat thanks to Akin’s blunder, promptly fired off a fundraising appeal crowing: “He’s baaaack. And he’s not sorry.”  

Republicans “haven’t learned anything,” said Marcy Stech, national press secretary for EMILY’s List, which pulled together $52 million to help female Democratic candidates in 2012 via direct donations, expenditures and bundling. “They think that they continue to fix their problems with women voters with a photo opportunity, or by starting a PAC, or throwing money at their problem. The core of their problem with women voters is their policies.”  

Female Republican candidates and organizers have actually accelerated their fundraising in recent months, Federal Election Commission records and campaign releases show. Republican Terri Lynn Land raised $2.2 million in the second quarter of this year for her Michigan Senate challenge, ahead of the $1.9 million that incumbent Democrat Gary Peters pulled in.  

In the Iowa Senate contest, GOP state Sen. Joni Ernst narrowly outraised Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in the second quarter, netting $1.8 million to his $1.7 million. In West Virginia, GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito pulled in $1.3 million in the same time frame, outraising her Democratic Senate opponent, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, by almost 2-to-1.  

Women Lead, a year-old super PAC to promote GOP women launched by Pennsylvania businesswoman and Republican National Committeewoman Christine Toretti, raised $120,532 in the second quarter of this year, more than double what it collected in the first quarter. For the full cycle so far, Women Lead has raised $329,000. Value In Electing Women, a Republican PAC known as VIEW PAC, has pulled in just under $414,000 in this cycle, more than it collected for all of the 2012 election cycle.  

But even those increases don’t bring Women Lead, VIEW PAC or any of the other GOP women’s PACs on the scene anywhere within striking distance of EMILY’s List. EMILY’s List’s super PAC, known as Women Vote, has pulled in more than $3 million so far in this cycle.  

Three of the group’s top-tier female Democratic Senate candidates — Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, incumbent Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Michelle Nunn in Georgia — collected $11.2 million between them in the second quarter, all ahead of their GOP opponents. Grimes still lags $3.6 million behind Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in terms of campaign cash, but the gap is closing and she has raised more than him in four quarters running.  

It’s a rate of fundraising that, for all their strides, remains out of reach for Republican women.  

Eliza Newlin Carney is a senior staff writer covering political money and election law for CQ Roll Call. Correction 3:21 p.m.  An earlier version of this story misstated the amount that Sen. Gary Peters raised in the second quarter. He raised $1.9 million. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's total in West Virginia failed to account for pre-primary receipts. Her total for the second quarter was $1.3 million.  

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