|By Miller, Sean J|
Why some say the
In August of this year, members of a local Republican women's club were gathered in the
Doster stood up at the front of the room and made the case for volunteering to register different demographics-veterans, recent retirees-that are likely Republican supporters but may not be registered because they've recently moved to the state. Doster spoke excitedly-timing can be critical in terms of getting voters registered and eligible for the next election-but there was one group he left out.
"The word ?woman' was never mentioned one time in the entire one hour speech," recalls
"I'm anxious to find out what their thought process is," says Mortham. "I just find it amazing that you can have 56 percent of the voting population and we are not all over that like a tent."
For many women in the party, the frustration goes beyond the way leading strategists talk about female voters-it extends to the makeup of campaign teams and the look of many
"We've got to start tailoring campaigns with that in mind, and the best way to do that is having female voices at the table," says
To be sure, there are a number of prominent female consultants operating on the Republican side of the aisle. The influential
After 2012, according to
"In the past, I've not come across too many women," says O'Connor, a managing partner at
She points to
That, however, is not a universally held opinion. In fact, Packer Gage remembers the Romney strategy table a bit differently. "At our strategy table on the campaign, there were probably 50 people and four women present," she says. "Usually it was only three of us... It makes it hard to counter a very male perspective which permeates campaigns both on the right and the left."
Right or left, many female operatives and consultants have in common the experience of being the only woman in the room-Thompson, a top adviser to Sen.
"If you take me out," says Thompson, "and you're left with only men sitting around the table talking about, ?how are we going to target women?' I think you're left with a perspective gap, really, which then grows into a gender gap." If you happen to be the party struggling mightily when it comes to winning over female voters, that's a problem.
"If you look at the numbers, women are the majority of the population; we're the majority of voters," Thompson says. "We have a higher turnout ratio, and we're the majority of consumers, the majority of television watchers. If you want to talk to the majority of voters, you have to craft a campaign that talks to women."
Having more women at the proverbial table is, most Republicans agree, a good thing. For them, it's a question of priorities. Some in the party's leadership believe that recruiting more female candidates will attract a larger share of female votes. But for the female members of the
Hiring a female consultant or operative just for the sake of hiring one isn't going to help the party, warns
"You can't just think, ?Oh, let's have a women's coalition director.' It's about completely changing how you run a campaign."
Not everyone agrees that there's a dearth of female operatives on the right, or that it has much at all to do with the party's poor electoral performances over the past two presidential cycles.
"From my perspective, I don't see it as an issue," says
Running off the number of female operatives at the highest levels of Romney's 2012 effort, Myers notes that women ran campaign operations in three critical battlegrounds for the Republican nominee last year:
"The Romney campaign was the training ground for this next wave," says Myers. "I think we've got a really, really strong bench of young women."
It would seem that the
Ask some female Republican consultants and strategists about the candidate-focused approach, though, and they'll point out a flaw. Even if the
"If that were the case, we'd probably have a President
Further, argues Hasner, having more female candidates won't necessarily lead to more top-level female operatives getting hired. That's because a female candidate won't necessarily prefer female consultants and operatives to male ones. "Some candidates are not even involved in the hiring of their entire team," says Hasner. "They hire their top person, their manager, and the manager goes out and hires the team."
The RNC's report acknowledges the problem, to wit: "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."
The consensus among women strategists on the right is that the problem of expanding the ranks of female operatives and consultants runs deeper than the party will admit. In the campaign world, much professional networking takes place around sports or beers after work.
"A lot of these settings that feel very male-focused are a little bit more difficult for a woman to break through in," says Packer Gage, founder of
Another challenge women in politics face hinges on the operative-consultant career track, which can send a person all over the map. Those who pursue it spend their 20s in hastily found apartments in random cities, and then, after
"Managing campaigns requires a tremendous commitment, and that is very difficult if you want to have a family," says
Some female consultants and operatives have talked about making it easier for women to reenter the campaign workforce after they take time off to raise children. But that wouldn't change the nature of the beast.
"It's a difficult business. It's an aggressive industry," Bradshaw says. "And I think women don't enjoy that."
Experienced female campaign professionals also know their skills can translate into good jobs in other industries- PR or lobbying-which offer the kinds of benefits that can help with child rearing, like stable health insurance, family and sick leave, and flexible schedules. Those benefits are generally lacking in the campaign world.
"Let's face it," says
Rather than focus on recruiting more women to the ticket, the
In fact, 40 percent of American households with children now include a mother who is either the sole or primary family earner. "Breadwinner moms," as the
"It's not just all about social issues," says Packer Gage. "We think there needs to be a smarter approach to communicating what our party stands for to women."
Democrats have based their training for female operatives on social issues. EMILY's List, for instance, has long been a guiding hand in the training of female campaign staffers and the recruitment of candidates. The group was founded with the goal of supporting female candidates who backed abortion rights. On the right there are groups like the
Female Republicans are now trying to replicate the success of EMILY's List in the form of
Getting more women into leadership positions on campaigns and at the national party committees, the thinking goes, will help get more Republicans elected because candidates will have access to a wider array of opinions.
"We need more women in senior leadership positions on campaigns," says
Campaign training, notes Hickey, isn't just an issue for women; it's lacking more generally on the right. "It has not been a focus in the party as much as it should be, and it's something Democrats do well," she says. "Women Up, Women Lead, and other women's groups are starting great training programs, and those will be very useful to the party as a whole."
Packer Gage is more candid: "I think that we certainly have some challenges winning elections because we don't have enough women at the table," she says, "and historically the Democrats and the left have had a more natural cultivating ground because they defined themselves as this sort of women's issue party, and so they've had organizations like EMILY's List and NOW [
Quantifying the gender imbalance between the parties isn't easy. At the top level of the 2012 presidential campaigns, for instance, the Republicans appeared to have an edge. At least, that's how it was presented at the
Still, Democratic female consultants are confident they outnumber their Republican colleagues in the industry by a fairly wide margin.
"The only female Republican consultants I've ever met are a pollster and two fundraisers," says
One set of statistics backs Chadderdon up. On the board of the
"A woman Republican consultant is an anomaly," says
The way that many Republican candidates talked to and about women voters in 2012 was counter-productive and even offensive at times, several female
"Every party has their extremists, and unfortunately some of the extremists on the conservative side have a tendency to be somewhat offensive to women," says
"Republicans are not doing as well with women voters as we should be, and it's like, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?" asks
t's worth noting that, in the area of fundraising, women have retained a large share of the campaign consulting market. The fundraising world has more women owners, consultants and finance directors than any other part of the campaign industry.
Some female campaign veterans remember when fundraising was the only place a woman was welcomed on a campaign. There's a reason, says
"The guys get into it thinking, ?Oh, this is so sexy, I'm going to be in the money-making world.' And then they find out it's a lot of crap. ?What, I have to sit with the candidate making phone calls? I have to do grunt work? I have to print nametags? This isn't what I signed up for,"' she says. "It's a grind. It's a tough business to stay in. People either love it and they stay in it, or they get out of fundraising very fast."
There's no question that women in the industry are as dedicated to the campaign craft as their male colleagues. Why else work the hours? But for the
"We don't necessarily need to treat women any differently, we just need to treat them with the same respect and value their opinions just as much as the man's sitting at the table," says
Meanwhile, Mortham, who says she's still looking forward to meeting with Doster, is skeptical but hopeful. "I think the answer is still out," she says, "as to whether or not everybody really has woke up and said, ?you know what, we can do better, and these are the things we have to do in order to be better.'" SS
'At our strategy table on the campaign, there were probably 50 people and four women present."
"If you want to talk to the majority of voters, you havetocrafta campaign that talks to women."
"The Romney campaign was the training ground for this next wave. I think we've got a really strong bench."
"We need more women in senior leadership positions on campaigns. I think well see the benefit of it electorally."
"I think we just don't have enough talented political female minds at the table of every campaign across the nation."
Sean /. Miller is a contributing editor to
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