Credit: Medill DC on Flickr, under Creative Commons
(WOMENSNEWS)--As the parties prepare for a grueling battle in the 2014 midterm election, GOP women have been cast in starring roles in 13 congressional districts now represented by vulnerable Democrats or in areas where GOP prospects have improved because of redistricting following the 2010 Census.
These women are key to GOP hopes of widening a 17-seat majority in the House of Representatives, retaining control over the budget and government spending and improving their rankings with female voters who, as a group, have favored Democrats for years.
The 13 female candidates have been tapped by the National Republican Congressional Committee's Project GROW (Growing Opportunities for Women) to receive training in managing campaigns and raising funds. More women may be selected in the coming months.
Project GROW is designed to increase the percentage of women in the House GOP Caucus, which now totals 8 percent (19 women and 213 men).
As party foot soldiers, the 13 candidates are unlikely to back the kinds of efforts that have sometimes brought GOP and Democratic women together across the aisle in years past.
Preserving the safety net for single mothers with young children and elderly women on limited incomes do not appear among their campaign concerns. Nor do they seem allied with gender-wage equity legislation such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The possibility of them bucking their party on reproductive health issues--such as the funding of Planned Parenthood clinics--is presumably remote.
So far, none of the 13 women offers proposals on such well-established nonpartisan issues as domestic violence and sex trafficking.
Harder for Moderates
"The ideological shift to the right among the Republican primary electorate has made it more difficult for female candidates who have historically been more moderate and are perceived as more liberal," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., in a phone interview.
Only 27 percent of the 113 GOP female candidates for the House won their primaries in the 2010 midterm election and 31 percent of 86 GOP female candidates in the 2012 general elections, found the center, which conducts research and outreach on women's under-representation in politics and government.
Like the male GOP candidates for the 435-member House, the current crop of female Republican hopefuls are joining the call to repeal the Affordable Care Act, roll back gun control laws, lower taxes and back abortion restrictions.
The Republican Women's Policy Committee, which is mentoring the 13 women, applauds that approach. Founded in 2012 by Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California to raise the profile of GOP women in Congress, the group believes female Republicans should highlight the "unique perspective of GOP women on a wide range of issues: less government, job creation, regulatory relief, personal responsibility, individual freedom and a strong national defense."
Female candidates are wise to stress the traditional GOP platform, noted Sharon Day, the Republican National Committee co-chair, at a September meeting of GOP women in Nashville, Tenn., which explored ways to increase the number of female Republicans at all levels of government.
"There's nothing wrong with our great Republican message except we need more women talking about our message," Day said.
A Stumbling Block
Championing conservative issues like less government and individual freedom may boost the chances of the 13 female GOP candidates to reach the general election.
But the high costs associated with victorious campaigns could be a stumbling block for challengers, who find it more difficult to raise money than do incumbents. Political action committees, industries and individuals are eager to donate to the campaigns of incumbents, especially those who are in leadership positions in the House or are members of committees that will consider legislation favorable to them.
In 2012, GOP House freshmen raised an average of $1,946,931, reported the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. House challengers who raised and spent more than $2 million had even odds of beating the incumbent; under $1 million, the odds decreased to almost 150-to-1.
The center, which has been tracking campaign financing for congressional races since the 1980s, estimates that the 2014 midterm elections will be the most expensive in history because the candidates will have to raise large sums from outside groups. In 2012, GOP House freshmen raised an average of $712,173 from political action committees.
Ad campaigns that take the high road will be essential, said Adrienne Kimmell, executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation in Cambridge, Mass., which conducts nonpartisan political research with an eye to advancing women's equality and representation in American politics.
"Although all candidates must show how they differ from their opponents, our research has consistently shown that women candidates pay a higher price for going negative in their ads than do male candidates," Kimmell said in a phone interview. "Voters don't like ads where they feel the candidate is bashing their opponent. Voters respond more favorably if the candidate offers a positive message as well as her plans to address various concerns."
At the moment, these candidates, along with all GOP hopefuls, have the edge in partisan optimism.
Sixty-three percent of Republicans are looking forward to the November congressional elections, compared to 53 percent of Democrats, found a national survey released Jan. 7
by the Washington-based Pew Research Institute, a nonpartisan "fact tank" that studies trends and attitudes shaping America and the world.
Sharon Johnson is a New York-based freelance writer.
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