Feb. 14, 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.

Facing a dwindling number of women in their ranks, House Republicans may be best served by adopting a strategy the party as a whole has shunned for cycles: playing in primaries.

It’s a tricky situation for the House GOP’s campaign arm, which publicly stays out of primaries after the party received flak for taking sides a few cycles ago.

But amid the party’s formal push to have more female members, it’s become increasingly clear that some contenders need extra help and resources in their races. And while the National Republican Congressional Committee insists it will stay on the sidelines, several House GOP women are taking the lead to publicly recruit, endorse and fundraise for female House candidates.

Three months after its launch, the House GOP’s female candidate program — Project GROW — has pinpointed 13 strong female candidates in House races, and NRCC aides say they are recruiting more. But two-thirds of these female candidates face competitive primaries against one or more male candidates, so the NRCC won’t officially back their campaigns.

That’s where the 19 women in the House GOP Conference come into play.

“People like myself and others in our conference are willing to step up ... and work with them individually and not on behalf of the NRCC when necessary,” said Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri, a leader in Project GROW.

Wagner said the recruitment effort is ongoing, adding there are at least five candidates she is working on recruiting at the moment. She declined to specify their districts.

Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, chairwoman of the Republican Women’s Policy Committee, has donated to the campaigns of two female candidates so far. One of them is businesswoman Tricia Pridemore, who is running in a crowded primary to replace Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.

“Many of the candidates that I have met with are in primaries right now, so it’s a difficult place for the NRCC to speak out on because they do have to let the primary process move forward,” Ellmers said. “However, there are members who are finding candidates and supporting them and helping them with donations to their campaigns.”

Project GROW — Growing Republican Opportunities for Women — provides mentors to candidates, plus offers strategy and polling support, among other things. It launched at the end of June, after the number of women in the House GOP caucus remained stagnant following the 2012 elections.

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