Republican Women Aren't Having It All

The GOP is trying to figure out why it has trouble recruiting female candidates. And maybe there's some truth to the idea that Republican women have a tougher time getting elected than Democratic women. But is it just because they're taking care of babies? Well, sometimes Republican women help portray the GOP as anti-woman.

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The Republican Party is trying to figure out why it has trouble recruiting female candidates. House GOP women will go on a listening tour to recruit other women to run for office, Roll Call's Emily Cahn reports, part of an effort to increase their numbers in 2014 that "will also feature a more streamlined and packaged message about why Republican policies are beneficial to women." While a third of House Democrats are female, only 8 percent of House Republicans are. Why is that? One female Republican consultant has an interesting theory: Republican women have trouble having it all. Roll Call reports:

Conservative women often play the more traditional role as caregivers to their children, and running for and serving in Congress often prohibits them from carrying out those roles, said Angela Faulkner, a GOP direct-mail consultant.

“The only time a woman can run is once the kids are out of the house. And that’s not fair,” Faulkner said. “That’s why Republicans have a harder time recruiting women to run for office than the Democratic side. They are trying to figure out, ‘How do I balance both?’”

The GOP has not always been entirely supportive of subsidized day-care programs that might help these women run for office. Melissa Woodbury, one of two Republican women in the Nevada state assembly, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that child care might be a factor in recruiting female Republicans, saying, "I think a lot of women wait until they're in a situation where they can serve."

Maybe there's some truth to the idea that Republican women have a tougher time getting elected than Democratic women. But is it just because they're taking care of babies? Another issue to look at is what kind of women are drawn to Republican politics. In a conference call with reporters in May, Ed Gillespie, chair of the Republican State Leadership Committee, said of issues like abortion and rape, "There have been times where how the issue was discussed had a negative impact on Republicans up and down the ballot, and I do believe that women candidates have demonstrated a greater ability to talk about the issue in a way that doesn’t alienate but is more persuasive and builds by attraction." You could see that strategy in action when House Republicans assigned Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn (pictured above) to manage a male colleague's bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks.

But on Monday there was news that Texas state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, a Republican woman, objected to a rape exception in an anti-abortion bill because rape kits act as a contraceptive. "In the emergency room they have what's called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out," Laubenberg said. And as many people noted during the 2012 campaign, the GOP had the same position on abortion as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdoch, it just used nicer language. Last week, House Republicans passed a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks — and all 19 female Republicans voted for it. Only six Republicans voted against the bill — all dudes. (Granted, one of those "no" votes was from Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, who took his name off the list of the bill's co-sponsors when a rape and incest exception was added.) During House debate on the bill, North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx suggested she opposed all abortions, saying, "May we mourn what abortion reveals about the conscience of our nation."

In fact, Republican women have been involved in lots of controversies that helped portray the GOP as anti-woman. Reps. Diane Black and Marsha Roby have sponsored legislation to defund Planned Parenthood. Rep. Michele Bachmann portrayed Texas's requirement that teens get an HPV vaccination — it prevents cervical cancer — as some kind of weird sex thing: "And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong." That famous Virginia bill that would have required transvaginal ultrasounds before abortions last year? It was sponsored by a woman, Del. Kathy J. Byron. Byron defended the transvaginal ultrasound requirement, saying, "if we want to talk about invasiveness, there's nothing more invasive than the procedure that she is about to have."

It makes sense that many female Republicans have the same positions on abortion that get so many male Republicans in trouble. Conservative women voters, for example, were often more supportive of Rick Santorum — famous for his conservatism on everything related to sex — during the 2012 Republican presidential primary, especially in states with more evangelicals. Women favored Santorum in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Mississippi. And Santorum got more women's votes than men's in others states he lost. But Santorum lost Michigan, where independents and Democrats could vote in the GOP primary. Mitt Romney beat Santorum by 1 point among men, but 6 points among women. In 2006, Santorum lost his Senate race by 18 points over all — and by 22 points among women. Conservative women appear to have supported Santorum much more than women as a whole.

North Carolina Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers told Roll Call's Emma Dumain last week that after the 2012 election, a woman stopped to talk to her staffer. "The woman said, 'I'm really glad your boss won,'" Ellmers says. "'But I'm really glad I got to keep my woman's rights.' ... [I]t told me that there are women in this country, even in my own hometown, who do not think the Republican Party cares about women, that they would lose their women’s rights if they had a Republican president." On abortion, at least, would having more female candidates change that?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.