By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Following up on my post last week about what it's like to be a Republican woman in Washington, D.C.--the "state" with the highest percentage of Democrats in the nation--it seems the Republican women on Capitol Hill are feeling lonely too. Politico's got an article today about the "minority in a minority," documenting the gender gap in terms of elected women. Republican women hold less than ten percent of GOP seats in the House and Senate, while Democratic women hold more than double that percentage in their party. Why are Republican women reluctant to throw their hat in the ring?
A number of reasons. Some of it is geography--Democrats have a stronger hold on voters in the Northeast and West, where women are more easily elected, than in the South where a predominately male GOP has historically been stronger. Some of it is demographics, meaning that more women these days identify themselves as Democrats and are more likely to run for office as a Democrat.
There's also the fear of putting one's family through the meat-grinder of a negative campaign. Women saw what happened to Sarah Palin and can't be blamed for saying "No, thanks." The ugly tone of modern campaigns is a big turn-off for many potential female candidates, on both sides of the aisle. And no one wants to be asked to run for office as a token, either. But for the GOP, as Politico points out, there's this too:
[Maine Senator Olympia] Snowe says there's also a political dimension. As the Republican Party sheds moderates, it also sheds women.
"[We] as a party are saying we're not supporting Republican moderates. That's a terrible message to send," said Snowe, who with her Maine counterpart Susan Collins represents 50 percent of the Republican women in the Senate. "It tells everyone else in America who might have an interest in running as a Republican moderate, they're going to have to think twice. The messages coming out of the national party are critical. They've got to be embracive and inclusive of political diversity. They can't on one hand say we're going to build a majority and then say we only want people with certain characteristics, like white males from the South. That's a concern to me."
Amen to that.
The Republican National Committee says it's running a grass-roots recruiting drive to get women to run for office in all 50 states. That's fine. The problem is, that to encourage them to run, Politico reports the RNC is bringing groups of women to Capitol Hill for tours. That's the last thing they should do! As a former staffer for a Congressman, I can tell you that Capitol Hill is one of the least women-friendly, family-friendly places on earth. It's the original men's club. My advice to the RNC: encourage women to run for office in order to change what they'll find on that Capitol Hill tour.
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