House Republicans are putting the first touches on what they hope will be a formal program to recruit more female candidates for the 2014 midterm elections.
Faced with few women in their ranks — and an image among much of the electorate that they don't pay enough attention to women's issues — GOP leaders have some explaining to do. The heightened effort to put more GOP women on the campaign trail comes one cycle after Democrats dominated with female voters, in no small part because incendiary comments by male candidates on rape and abortion allowed Democrats to paint Republicans as hostile to women.
Female members of the House GOP said the new recruiting effort, still in its infancy, will likely include a listening tour of women and women’s groups across the country. The current crop of 19 women in the House GOP would play a key role by talking to prospective candidates.
The program will also feature a more streamlined and packaged message about why Republican policies are beneficial to women as a whole. However, House GOP aides declined to give specifics on the nascent program.
“I think that we have to do a better job in messaging to women,” said Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee. “And I think we’ve learned some lessons, and building upon the lessons that we have learned, tell women that as Republicans, our policies so well match what women many times are very concerned about.”
Democrats argue, of course, that there are fewer Republican women because women in general don't identify with the party’s positions on women’s issues. Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he’s never had to formally recruit women to run.
“The essential difference is that Republicans have to recruit women. All I have to do is answer the phone,” Israel said.
Women make up a much greater portion, one-third, of the House Democratic Caucus compared with the Republican Conference. Women make up 8 percent of the House GOP majority.
And the lopsided gender breakdown extends to the campaign trail.
Last cycle, 109 Republican women filed federal paperwork to run for the House: 48 won their primaries, including 21 incumbents, and 20 won their elections, according to a study from the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics. (A post-election retirement left the House GOP women’s caucus with 19 members.)
By comparison, 190 Democratic women filed federal paperwork to run for the House last cycle: 118 won their primaries, including 45 incumbents, and 62 were elected.
To improve the House GOP’s gender parity, several Republicans agree, women must be asked to run for office — instead of waiting for them to approach local or national party leadership. Freshman Rep. Ann Wagner, R- Mo., said a more formal program to recruit women would represent such an outreach.
“Women need to be asked,” said Wagner, who helped create a similar recruitment program as Republican National Committee co-chairwoman in 2001. “They have to be told of the opportunity and be encouraged to run.”
First-term Rep. Susan W. Brooks, R-Ind., observed that, in her talks with Republican hopefuls, many women don’t believe they possess the necessary experience to run, or else fear how a congressional career will affect their families.
“I think more often than not that they fear they are not qualified or that they can’t raise the money, which is something many women have not been involved in,” Brooks said.
The party must also become more hospitable to female prospects by creating more formal support systems, especially for younger candidates, Republicans argued. The average age of a House GOP woman is 53, compared with 57 for Congress as a whole.
Conservative women often play the more traditional role as caregivers to their children, and running for and serving in Congress often prohibits them from carrying out those roles, said Angela Faulkner, a GOP direct-mail consultant.
“The only time a woman can run is once the kids are out of the house. And that’s not fair,” Faulkner said. “That’s why Republicans have a harder time recruiting women to run for office than the Democratic side. They are trying to figure out, 'How do I balance both?'”
Faulkner suggested the recruitment program should devote a significant amount of resources to help create child care options. It must also allow women to have more flexible schedules to take care of their families and the responsibilities of being an elected official.
A more formal announcement of the burgeoning program, run with the National Republican Congressional Committee, is expected in the coming weeks.