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NRCC Lacks Women in Top-Tier Races

While Senate Republicans boast top-flight female candidates in several marquee races, there appears to be a dearth of GOP women running in some of the most competitive House races across the country.

“If women aren’t populating the red-to-blue or the blue-to-red districts, where the Democrats and Republicans are focusing their efforts, then they’re not running in the races where the resources to help ensure victory are directed,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University and a former Congressional candidate.

Several Republican operatives and candidates noted that the 2010 cycle could be a good opportunity for female candidates to make advances, given the anti-incumbency mood and the fact that health care — an issue that traditionally plays well with female voters — will be a dominant issue. But with Republicans poised to capitalize on voter anger and pick up seats in November, these operatives and candidates questioned why more female Republican candidates aren’t running in the most competitive House races.

“A Republican woman has something really special and unique to offer in 2010. I still believe that we’re going to see more and more of these women emerge across the country,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), who heads female candidate recruitment for House Republicans.

The National Republican Congressional Committee supplied a list of more than 60 GOP women running this cycle, but only a small percentage of them so far are competitive or recognized by the committee as strong candidates.

Out of the top 10 candidates in the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program, there is one woman: Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby in Alabama. The next tier of 20 “Contenders” in the program includes two women, and the lowest tier of “On the Radar” candidates has only one.

Republicans have a large stable of challenger candidates this cycle and also face multiple competitive primaries in key districts.

Candidates are added to the Young Guns program as they achieve fundraising and campaign goals. There are a handful of potentially strong female candidates who recently entered races and won’t be eligible for the program until the end of the first fundraising quarter. Among them are former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan in Pennsylvania’s 4th district and state Rep. Kristi Noem in South Dakota.

“Female candidates across the country are doing a phenomenal job thus far, and we’re confident that through the Young Guns program more women will excel and build winning campaigns,” NRCC spokeswoman Joanna Burgos said.

However, one female GOP operative, who declined to speak on the record, commented that even the name of the Young Guns program was not very friendly to female candidates. The name was inherited from an organization run by Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in previous cycles to support rising stars in the party.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this week released its “Red to Blue” list, which highlights its top 13 challenger and open-seat candidates. The list includes three female candidates. Democrats do not include candidates in contested primaries on that list, which means two female candidates running in Minnesota’s 6th district and a couple of others in potentially competitive races were not included.

A few female Republican candidates said they were courted by the NRCC to run at first. But they also expressed disappointment at the number of female candidates on the Young Guns list — especially given the opportunities for the party as a whole in 2010.

Washington state Rep. Jaime Herrera (R) said recruitment phone calls from the NRCC began early last fall — months before Rep. Brian Baird (D) announced he was retiring from his competitive House seat. As the only female in GOP leadership in the Washington House, Herrera said she thinks her candidacy brought a fresh perspective to federal races.

“It’s a perfect opportunity, because what people are looking for right now [is] contrast,” Herrera said. “And what women are able to present is contrast.”

Before plunging into the race, Herrera also called her old boss on Capitol Hill: McMorris Rodgers.

“There’s a lot of consideration when it comes to recruiting a candidate,” McMorris Rodgers said. “I can’t say that there has been an emphasis on recruiting women. They are really trying to recruit the best candidate in each district, and I’m always excited when it’s a woman.”

McMorris Rodgers said she would like to see more female candidates make their way through the Young Guns program, although they must achieve the predetermined benchmarks like any other candidate.

“I think we’ve done a good job of encouraging women to run,” she said. “It takes time. I heard once about women [that] it takes a women on average two years to decide to run for office.”

Herrera said she felt like she had a head start compared with most female candidates because she was thinking about a bid early in the cycle.

“Well, two years ago, where everybody was at, was Republicans got spanked by the electorate,” Herrera quipped. “Not as many people are thinking, ‘Well, I’m going to run in two years.’”

State Rep. Jackie Walorski, who is running against Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), has already achieved the entry-level “On the Radar” status in the NRCC’s program. She recalled how the NRCC has heavily courted her in past cycles to run — to the extent that she eventually hung up the phone on them.

The NRCC “started calling me three or four years ago,” Walorski recalled. “They called me constantly to try to get me to run. I got so tired of hearing from them, I told them to stop calling me.”

But since she publicly started to consider a bid last fall, she said her interaction with the committee and GOP Members has been minimal. She was also stunned by the low number of Republican female candidates in top races, given that she believes this is a perfect environment for women in the GOP to run for office.

“When you say that as a woman, that I want to take [Speaker Nancy Pelosi] on and win, I think that opens up a different dynamic,” Walorski said.

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