Some Republican members of Congress are worried that unless the Republican Party recruits more women to run for Congress, it will lose female voters in 2020 and become vulnerable to Democrat criticism that the GOP is the party of white men.
The recent 2018 midterm elections did not help matters. Democrats pulled in 35 new females to the House, bringing their total up to a record 89. Meanwhile, House Republicans pulled in only one, and will have only 13 female members.
While more than 100 Republican women were recruited to run, only one won her race.
Meanwhile, Democrats also reportedly ramping up identity politics in the 2020 elections.
Several Democrat female senators — Sens. Kamala Harris (CA), Elizabeth Warren (MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) are eyeing a run for 2020.
Gillibrand recently tweeted that the future is “female.”
Our future is:
Powered by our belief in one another.
And we’re just getting started.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) December 5, 2018
And Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the likely next speaker, has made being a woman her selling point, arguing that there needs to be a female voice at the leadership table.
Republicans are divided over if there is a problem.
Spearheading an effort to get more Republican women in Congress is Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the youngest member of Congress at 34 years old, and the youngest female member of Congress to be elected before Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
“We are at a crisis level of GOP women in Congress & I will continue speaking out. We need ALL your voices to help to make an impact,” she tweeted Friday morning.
We are at a crisis level of GOP women in Congress & I will continue speaking out. We need ALL your voices to help to make an impact. We must:
Engage women 📣📝
Empower women 🙋♀️🙋🏻♀️🙋🏿♀️🙋🏽♀️
Elevate women Ὠ💫
Donate here to #Elevate GOP women today👇https://t.co/l8VdTHk8Uw
— Elise Stefanik (@EliseStefanik) December 7, 2018
Stefanik was recently the first female head of recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee but is now focusing on working through her leadership political action committee, E-PAC, to get more women through their primary elections — something the NRCC does not deal with.
Her decision has prompted criticism from colleagues, including NRCC Chairman-elect Tom Emmer (ME), who believes it is about what voters at the local level want, versus a “Washington-driven” formula.
“It shouldn’t be just based on looking for a specific set of ingredients — gender, race, religion,” he told Roll Call on Tuesday.
“You might be able to get somebody elected by throwing a lot of money at a primary and doing all that the first time, but you’re not going to sustain yourself,” he added. “More often than not, voters have to take ownership in the candidate.”
Stefanik fired back in a tweet, “NEWSFLASH I wasn’t asking for permission.”
“I will continue speaking out [about] the crisis level of GOP women in Congress & will try to lead and change that by supporting strong GOP women candidates through my leadership PAC,” she said.
But 🚨 🚨NEWSFLASH🚨🚨I wasn’t asking for permission.
—>”If that’s what Elise wants to do, then that’s her call, her right…But I think that’s a mistake.”
— Elise Stefanik (@EliseStefanik) December 4, 2018
Republicans will see Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) rise to the party’s No. 3 as GOP conference chairman, welcome Sen.-elect Marsha Blackburn as Tennessee’s first female senator.
But the mainstream media has typically not been as friendly to Republican female firsts as they have to Democrats’, and bringing attention to efforts to reach out to women could be an uphill climb.
This week, Reuters ran a piece entitled “‘Badass’ national security women offer Democrats a Trump antidote” that profiled five incoming female Democrats with national security backgrounds who call themselves “the Badasses.”
The article said those women will be important in the Democratic Party’s efforts in 2020 to keep control of the House, as well as win back the Senate and the White House.
“The top traits for Trump’s nightmare opponent would be a young, charismatic woman with a national security background,” David Wasserman, a senior analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report told Reuters.
Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, told Reuters the candidates were the “secret sauce” for Democrats in Republican-leaning areas in 2018. The candidates — Alison Spanberger (VA), Elissa Slotkin (MI), Elaine Luria (VA), Mikie Sherrill (NJ), and Chrissy Houlahan (PA) — all took previously Republican seats.
According to the exit polls from the midterm elections, women favored Democrats over Republicans for Congress, at 59 to 40 percent, according to the Washington Post.
Patrice Onwuka, a senior policy analyst with Independent Women’s Forum, said she does not believe conservatives have a problem with policy when it comes to women — but there is a problem with messaging.
“I don’t think conservatives have a problem with policy ideas. I think our ideas are actually the ideas that provide the most individual choice, and freedom, and opportunity, and they really unleash the spirit of the individual to be and do as much as you can,” she said in an interview with Breitbart News on Friday.
But, she added, “I think the challenge is messaging those ideas and the tone that conservatives take can hold them back.”
She said in the last stretch of the midterm election cycle, conservatives did not have a cohesive message on health care, even on GOP policies that were good for the economy and American families. “I think conservatives lost credibility with independent voters, particularly women,” she said.
She said polls show that gender is not the driving force behind voting for a candidate, but agrees that having more women in office would help conservatives with tone and messaging on issues like health care and immigration.
“Women intrinsically understand how much they’re spending on health care, they’re understanding how much an increase in premiums means for the family budget every month,” she said.
“The more we conservatives really message our strong policy ideas in a tone, in a way that does not close off other people, then I think that is going to be effective when it comes to [reaching] voters.”
Onwuka agreed with Stefanik that there needed to be better infrastructure to support conservative female candidates, and to simply get more to run.
“Conservatives take the viewpoint that they don’t engage in identity politics, and that is understandable, but there is nothing wrong in messaging to a particular audience the same policy perspective,” she said.