GOP women’s group looks to be a force in future elections

Winning for Women Action Fund spent $2.9 million in the 2020 cycle

Winning for Women backed Iowa State Rep. Ashley Hinson, who defeated Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer last week.  (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Winning for Women backed Iowa State Rep. Ashley Hinson, who defeated Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer last week. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted November 13, 2020 at 3:09pm

A new group dedicated to electing Republican women is touting its success after a string of victories last week and looking to grow its influence in future elections.

Winning for Women, which also has an independent expenditure arm known as WFW Action Fund, noted in a memo that is being sent to donors, board members and advisers that it surpassed its goal of electing 20 GOP women to the House.

The memo touted 27 Republican women who have won House races so far, and that number could grow with several races still not called. The count includes New York state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, whose race The Associated Press has not yet called. Democratic incumbent Max Rose conceded to Malliotakis on Thursday.

Winning for Women sees female candidates as key to winning over suburban women, a demographic that has fled the GOP since President Donald Trump’s election.

“Winning these voters back will require sustained and focused efforts from the GOP to build a bench of qualified women candidates who reflect the priorities of women voters, and who can go toe-to-toe with their opponents on the Left,” the group noted in its memo, shared first with CQ Roll Call.

In the 2020 cycle, WFW Action Fund spent $2.9 million supporting female candidates. Its largest expenditure, $600,000, went toward reelecting Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst, who comfortably won a second term. The effort involved a “phone, mail, and digital campaign that targeted modeled ticket-splitting [Joe] Biden/Ernst voters and highlighted Senator Ernst’s bipartisan record,” according to the memo.

The group spent $300,000 to support Iowa Republican state Rep. Ashley Hinson and $275,000 to boost Oklahoma state Sen. Stephanie Bice, both of whom defeated freshman Democratic women in House races last week.

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But the $2.9 million spent by WFW Action Fund pales in comparison to the money spent to support Democratic women. Through Oct. 14, the independent expenditure arm of EMILY’s List, a group that backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, had spent $34 million in the 2020 cycle, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

“EMILY’s List has been around for decades,” former New Hampshire GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who sits on the Winning for Women board of directors, said in a Friday interview. “We just got started in 2018, and if you look at the success we had in ’20, we’re going to build on that.”

“We’ll have as great an impact as EMILY’s List, but it takes time,” Ayotte later added.

Winning for Women is unusual in that it plays in primaries, which have proved to be an obstacle for GOP women in the past. The National Republican Congressional Committee does not take sides in House primaries. Ayotte said she understood the NRCC’s position, noting that Winning for Women was formed to help support women from the beginning of their campaigns.

WFW Action Fund worked in tandem with GOP super PACs such as Congressional Leadership Fund, which is focused on House races, and its Senate counterpart, Senate Leadership Fund.

CLF granted $550,000 to WFW Action Fund to underwrite TV spots, specifically in Bice’s race, where outside groups ran ads while Bice replenished her campaign coffers after a primary runoff. The groups also worked to run similar messaging across different media markets in a single district.

“Republicans owe much of our success this cycle to recruiting stronger, more diverse candidates, including record numbers of women — and the results speak for themselves,” CLF President Dan Conston said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “Winning for Women was a valued partner and we were proud to work hand-in-hand in key races to elect more Republican women to Congress.”

Looking ahead to 2022, Winning for Women is focused on recruiting and supporting even more GOP women.

Asked whether she was considering a bid for her old Senate seat in 2022, Ayotte said she’s not focused on running for office. As a board member, she is involved in talking through the rigors of a campaign with potential candidates and participates in fundraisers.

Ayotte said she believes her party has been more willing to focus on recruiting and electing Republican women to Congress after the debacle in 2018 that brought just one new GOP woman to the House.

“I think there has been a shift,” Ayotte said. “And you know why? Because we win.”