Toretti was ill-prepared to take over S. W. Jack Drilling, the company founded by and named for her paternal grandfather. Her father, Samuel W. Jack Jr., was of the mind that drilling sites were no place for a woman, “so while I understood the numbers and the financial end of the business,” she says, “I didn’t know the operation.” But in the wake of her father’s suicide, Toretti’s mother “was just bereaved enough and crazy enough” to let her try running things.
The first years were brutal. “I was waking up in the middle of the night drenched in cold perspiration, wondering how I was going to make payroll,” she remembers. Worse still, she had no one to talk to: “All my friends were stay-at-home moms.”
When Governor Ridge recruited Toretti as a national committeewoman for the RNC, she says, “my business was turning around, my kids were preteens and demanding more time, and I had just gone through a divorce. It was a mess. So I said, ‘Thank you very much, but no.’ ” Ridge pushed back, playing the gender card. “ ‘Do you believe in a two-party system?,’ ” Toretti remembers him asking. “ ‘Well, there’s no one that looks like you in the party that’s at the table.’ ”
So Toretti began organizing. A few years in, she started an annual leadership program called the Anne B. Anstine Excellence in Public Service Series, which aims to energize and train Republican women to run for office in Pennsylvania. Since 2002, the program has graduated more than 200 participants, about half of whom have run. Of those, Toretti says, 85 percent have been elected. She also launched a similar program in Arizona, where she lived during her brief second marriage.
Women Lead, which is based in Toretti’s hometown, promises to be her biggest challenge yet. The organization currently has just two full-time employees: Toretti (who is not paid) and her executive director, Courtney Johnson, formerly the head of Women for Mitt. While they’ve already collected a few “five-figure checks,” Toretti says, the early months have been largely about educating donors and generating buzz.
When I spoke with Toretti again, just before Thanksgiving, she and Johnson had been on the road nonstop, hitting everything from a Republican Attorneys General conference, to a meeting of the Republican Governors Association, to a women’s retreat sponsored by the National Rifle Association. They’d also been studying the lay of the electoral land: researching primaries and handicapping candidates. Among those they’re planning to support are Representative Shelley Moore Capito, who’s running for a U.S. Senate seat in West Virginia, and Martha McSally, a House candidate in Arizona. Toretti is also a huge fan of New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, whom she has been squiring around to prominent donors.
In November, Campaigns & Elections put Toretti on its list of Top 50 “Influencers” for the 2014 elections. Just what kind of influence she will have, however, remains to be seen. Toretti is well aware of the difference between tweaking how her party talks to women and reevaluating some of its harder-line positions on so-called women’s issues; she expresses support for both tactics.