Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

House GOP Women Play in Primaries to Increase Ranks

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Wagner is a leader with Project GROW and is in the process of trying to recruit at least five female candidates.

The program has already identified the following top female House candidates for 2014: retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally and Air Force veteran Wendy Rogers in Arizona, autism activist Elizabeth Emken and state Sen. Mimi Walters in California, Pridemore and state Rep. Donna Sheldon in Georgia, Mariannette Miller Meeks in Iowa, Darlene Senger in Illinois, Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah in Minnesota, former Rep. Nan Hayworth and former Mitt Romney staffer Elise Stefanik in New York, former International Trade Commission Commissioner Charlotte Lane in West Virginia and Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love in Utah’s 4th District.

Despite this list, the House GOP still has a long way to go with recruiting strong female candidates before the party will be in a position to significantly increase the number of women in the caucus. There are 62 women in the House Democratic Caucus.

Look no further than the GOP’s stronghold in the Deep South to see the party’s problematic math. There are five open-seat races in Republican districts across Louisiana and Georgia, including a Bayou State special election. Only three of the 20 announced candidates in these five races are women — and two of them are running for the same seat.

The primary math is only slightly less daunting.

In 2012, 109 Republican women ran for House seats across the country. But of those 109 women, more than half never made it past a primary. Of the GOP women who lost in primaries, 80 percent lost to male challengers, according to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics.

“If they want to see any kind of substantial gains ... they have no choice,” said Jennifer Lawless, an American University professor who focuses on women in politics, of the GOP playing in primaries. “When you have a competitive field, you have to narrow that down quickly, and one of those best ways to do that is with a party cue.”

But the party is loath to lay a hand on primaries. For that reason, many Republicans cede that adding more women to the congressional ranks will be a long-term recruitment effort that goes beyond 2014.

“The NRCC has taken a strong step in the right direction, setting up a formal program, identifying female Republicans to lead it, but you can’t expect changes overnight,” said a GOP operative who works with the committee. “The best time to start working on recruitment is the day after the election, so while the important work will be done this cycle, the most significant impact will probably not be seen until next cycle.”

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