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House GOP Women Gamble in Florida Special

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Jenkins, the vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, is one of several GOP women supporting Peters’ bid for Florida’s 13th District.

Wagner endorsed Peters soon after she entered the race. All of these Republican women, except Brooks, have contributed to her campaign, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports.

“They have had an effect, especially in Washington circles because of their reputations,” said Peters spokesman Mark Zubaly.

He added that these female members gave his candidate credibility among insiders with whom Jolly, a former Capitol Hill aide, is already established.

But the House GOP women’s effort is nascent at best. They are relatively new to Congress; most are in their first few terms. Wagner, widely identified as the leader of the effort, is a freshman — although also a seasoned strategist and former top official at the Republican National Committee.

By comparison, Democrats boast a mature infrastructure for recruiting and supporting female candidates. The party’s likely special-election nominee, former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, raised an astounding $1.1 million for her bid so far.

The combined donations to Peters from the House Republican women amounted to half of what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., donated to Sink through the Democratic House leader’s political action committee and campaign fund.

And then there is EMILY’s List, a prominent, nearly three-decades-old organization that backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights. EMILY’s List donated to Sink’s campaign and encouraged its supporters to do the same.

Most notably, however, EMILY’s List and House Democrats cleared the primary for Sink. Party officials even elbowed another female candidate, attorney Jessica Ehrlich, out of the race to give Sink a straight shot at the nod.

Interestingly, many Democratic party leaders privately argue that Sink would fare better against a male GOP nominee, Jolly, in the March 11 special election.

But no matter the outcome of the election, House Republican women remain hopeful they can help more female candidates this cycle.

They name several candidates whom they will likely support in competitive GOP primaries: Air Force veteran Wendy Rogers in Arizona’s 9th District, state Sen. Mimi Walters in California’s 45th District and businesswoman Tricia Pridemore in Georgia’s 11th District.

“We’re not done with our recruiting class but there are certainly three or four that we’ve got high hopes for,” Jenkins said. “We’ve got work to do.”

Emily Cahn contributed to this report.

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