A year ago, fresh off a defeat in the 2012 elections, the Republican National Committee released an “autopsy” of its loss, detailing problems with the party’s brand, outreach, fundraising and campaign efforts.
Along with African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and young people, the report singled out women as a key voting demographic and a missed opportunity, citing President Obama’s 36-point victory over Republican nominee Mitt Romney among single women.
This was the takeaway:
The RNC must improve its efforts to include female voters and promote women to leadership ranks within the committee. Additionally, when developing our Party’s message, women need to be part of this process to represent some of the unique concerns that female voters may have. There is growing unrest within the community of Republican women frustrated by the Party’s negative image among women, and the women who participated in our listening sessions contributed many constructive ideas of ways to improve our brand with women throughout the country and grow the ranks of influential female voices in the Republican Party.
Among the goals were recruiting more women to run, having a deeper bench of surrogates, and developing a better response to Democrats’ “war on women” rhetoric.
So, a year later, how is the Republican party doing?
At least one poll, released by CNN, suggests there is still much work to be done–55 percent of respondents to a February poll, said that the Republican party does not understand women, a figure that rises to 59 percent among women respondents.
“I think a year ago, we were probably a C to be honest with you and I think 2012 was a wake-up call for a lot of us, but we changed the direction with the GOP project,” said Sharon Day, co-chair of the RNC. “We decided that we aren’t just speaking to women’s clubs and that the only way we are going to change the dynamics of our party and our politics is to have more women running and we wanted to provide that tool to empower.”
This past weekend, Day was in West Virginia with a group of women for their “Blackboard to Blacktop” training session with candidates and strategists. There have also been monthly networking meetings in Washington, D.C. where women are introduced to each other and all the various aspects of campaigning, from finance to communications to being a field staffer. Every month representatives of all of the Republican organizations, from the college Republicans to the Republican Governor’s Association meet to discuss growth strategy and how the RNC can help.
In the next weeks, the RNC will launch an effort in 40 counties across the country to identify precinct captains and women under 40 who have voted Republican but haven’t been involved as volunteers. The idea is to amass an army of women to collect data and make phone calls in the weeks leading up to the midterms.
On the Hill, Republicans have to play catch up with Democrats, who have long outpaced them when it comes to electing women. Currently, excluding delegates, there are 99 women in the House and Senate, 76 of whom Democrats.
“There is a different win rate GOP versus Democrat because women tend to be more moderate on GOP and not able to make it through the primary because you are talking about the most conservative wing of the party coming out in those primaries,” said Debbie Walsh, who heads the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “And another reason we see that the women are overwhelmingly Democratic is [because of] the outside the party organizations. There literally isn’t the organization on the GOP side, nothing in size and heft on the Republican side like Emily’s List.”
Over the past year, at the party level and outside the party, there have been a number of strides, among them the founding of Burning Glass, the first-ever all women GOP political consulting firm, as well as RightNOW Women, a Republican version of Emily’s List that focuses on endorsing women candidates.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) launched women-focused Project GROW – short for Growing Republican Opportunities for Women – last June as a new effort to recruit, mentor, train and promote female candidates.
Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the NRCC, said while many filing deadlines are months away, they have already begun to see successes as candidates like Mia Love in Utah, Martha McSally in Arizona and Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Iowa have announced their intentions to run.
“We have a lot of women running for Congress, nearly every week we are having a woman announce,” she said. “This is the first step in a long term effort.”
In addition to candidate recruitment, Bozek said members like Reps. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wy.) have pitched in to mentor candidates — both male and female — as they move through the process.
“It’s everything from ‘I had a bad day’ to ‘Can you help me broaden my donor base,'” she said.
Yet, so far, the number of GOP women running for House seats is down from last year, according to numbers compiled by Walsh’s center. In 2012, a record 108 Republican women sought House seats, and this year it’s only 74.
And, too, there is another issue complicating the flood the zone with women efforts launched last year. Some Republicans have strayed off message, notably former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee at the RNC’s winter meeting, suggesting that Democrats have tricked women into thinking they “cannot control their libido” and have to rely on “Uncle Sugar” for government-subsidized birth control.
“The reality is, it didn’t need to be said,” the RNC’s Day said. “Men need to stop talking about things they don’t know anything about, and that’s all of them.”
Another hurdle: Republicans just don’t seem to value diversity in the way that Democrats tend to. An October poll by ABC-Fusion shows that while 43 percent of Americans think it would be a good thing if more women were elected to Congress, only 23 percent of Republicans overall hold this view and 24 percent of GOP women.
Day pushed back, saying that her party understands the importance of diversity, but did acknowledge challenges.
“In the political world we know it’s a man’s world. We get it,” Day said. “But we have to change that concept.”