THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: GOP Women Embrace Guns In House Races

Written by Natalie Andrews for The Wall Street Journal on July 12, 2020

Tiffany Shedd, running for the House in Arizona, re-enacts a moment in which she pulled out a gun to defend her family when she saw what she said were drug runners on her land near the border.

In New Mexico, Yvette Herrell promises to take on the “gun-grabbing elite in Washington” as she fires off rounds at a shooting range.

Genevieve Collins says being a Texas woman “means you know how to shoot, clean, and eat your kill one day, then throw on your dress and work a boardroom the next.”

Many Republican women running to win back Democratic-held House seats are embracing guns and shows of physical strength in their campaign ads to back up their support of tougher border security, Second Amendment rights and loyalty to President Trump. At the same time, they are attacking Democratic proposals and are avoiding talk of bipartisan cooperation in these competitive districts.

Women candidates are central to the Republican Party’s efforts to rebuild its ranks following deep losses in 2018, which left the party in the minority in the House. More than 220 Republican women filed to run for the House this cycle, a record. Of those, more than 50 Republican women have secured their party’s nomination and several more are in runoff contests, with several primaries still to be held.

“These Republican women aren’t just running on being tough—they are tough,” said Torunn Sinclair, spokeswoman for the House GOP campaign arm. She said House Democrats in the competitive districts “broke their promises to be middle-of-the-road representatives.”

GOP hopefuls “will do anything to distract from their positions and records that would make health care more expensive for everyday Americans and their lockstep obedience” to the party, said Cole Leiter, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Republicans are also looking to close a wide gender gap with Democrats. Republicans currently have just 13 women in the House, down from 22 in the previous Congress. The block of dark suits on the left side of the rostrum has stood in stark contrast to the 88 women on the other side of the aisle. Democrats hold the majority with 233 lawmakers, versus 197 Republicans and one Independent.

“That’s a picture that really needs to change,” said businesswoman Lisa Scheller, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Susan Wild for a seat in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. “Women are stepping up in record numbers, we do bring a unique perspective and a necessary one.”

While the GOP candidates’ ads vary, many tell stories of being mothers and overcoming adversity, which could help them with conservative voters. Ms. Scheller, for instance, has an ad that shows her biking on long country roads while discussing her record running a company and her earlier struggle with addiction.

Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said the ads help the candidates check off many boxes.

“They have to demonstrate don’t worry, I’m also a really good solid wife and mother, but also I meet these otherwise masculine parts of the office—I’m strong, I’m tough,” said Ms. Dittmar, who analyzed how Republican women were running in 16 competitive House races and found many were emphasizing guns and gun rights.

Democrats said their candidates often show toughness and speak to the concerns of local voters. Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico, who defeated Ms. Herrell in 2018 and faces a rematch this year, aired an ad in 2018 in which she fired a hunting rifle while discussing a “shot at a brighter future.”

Ms. Herrell argued she would be stronger on gun rights. “Protecting the Second Amendment has always been a top priority of mine,” she said in a statement.

After losing their House majority in the midterms, Republican women recruited to rebuild their ranks. Incumbents such as Rep. Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.) and outside groups mentored and gave money to women in primaries.

“We’re not going to get to 218 with only white men,” said former Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican who represented Northern Virginia suburbs until losing in 2018. The lower number of GOP incumbents means that there are more open primaries for Republican women to enter, she noted. When all 435 House seats are filled, 218 is a majority.

A 2016 study by the Public Religion Research Institute found Republican voters were more likely than Democrats to favor traditional gender roles, such as a husband at work with a wife at home. In the poll, 44% of Republicans believed society is better off when men and women take on traditional roles, with 51% disagreeing. That compared with 65% of Democrats disagreeing with that notion.

Many women Republican candidates in competitive races also are highlighting their opposition to progressive policy proposals, such as the Green New Deal. They are largely running with Mr. Trump, despite his low approval numbers.

By contrast, Rep. John Katko of New York—one of the few GOP lawmakers who have held on to seats in districts that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won in 2016—released his first ad last week. It mentions the words “bipartisan” or “bipartisanship” five times in 30 seconds.

An emphasis on guns can carry risks. In February, Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler posted a video of herself walking in hunting gear while holding a rifle. But when the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that she didn’t have a hunting license, her primary opponent, Rep. Doug Collins, mocked her on Twitter. Ms. Loeffler’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The focus has boosted other candidates. In an upset last month, Lauren Boebert defeated five-term GOP Rep. Scott Tipton in a Colorado primary after emphasizing her passion for guns and calling her opponent insufficiently conservative.

Arizona’s Ms. Shedd, who faces an August primary for the right to challenge Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran, said her political ads draw on personal experience. In 2006, she said she confronted men who crossed her property when she was six months pregnant. The men backed away, but had they not, she said she would have shot to kill.

“I don’t think it is that we’re trying to show that we’re tough, I think it’s that we’ve done things that are tough,” said Ms. Shedd, who has been endorsed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.).

Another GOP candidate, Nancy Mace, highlights her record as the first woman to graduate from the Citadel’s Corps of Cadets in 1999. She is taking on Rep. Joe Cunningham, a freshman Democrat in South Carolina’s low country.

“Really what I’ve tried to do is tell my story, and my story is that I’ve been a barrier breaker all my life,” Ms. Mace said.

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