by David M. Drucker | March 12, 2019
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., is pushing fellow Republicans to admit they have a problem and thoroughly re-evaluate their approach to women voters, warning colleagues in Washington that a rocky relationship with this critical bloc is hobbling the party and could prove costly in 2020.
The 34-year-old, third-term Republican from upstate New York is something of an endangered species: young, female and conservative. It’s a troubling dynamic for the GOP that predates President Trump. But after Republicans lost their majority in the House of Representatives in a midterm election drubbing and saw the ranks of their women reduced to just 13 out of nearly 200 members, Stefanik decided she had seen enough.
“The last time we had a really strong strategy toward winning women voters was the Bush campaign when there were ‘Security Moms,’” Stefanik said, referring to former President George W. Bush’s re-election nearly 15 years ago. “We need to come up with what our 21st Century strategy is toward winning suburban voters.”
[Opinion: 4 reasons I skipped the Women’s March]
Last fall, historically Republican suburbs across the country turned blue in a rebuke of Trump fueled by women voters. Yet there are GOP leaders in Washington who continue to place the blame elsewhere — on the media, on Republicans for not supporting the president with enough vigor, even on the Democrats for targeting incumbent Republican women for defeat.
Stefanik acknowledged that a significant number of her Republican colleagues have resisted her campaign, although she name-checked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., as two supporters.
“Some of my colleagues in the House haven’t liked that I’m focused on this,” she said.
“Sometimes, there’s a knee-jerk reaction that as Republicans, we don’t believe in identity politics,” Stefanik explained. “I agree with that. But there’s a more nuanced approach. If you want to be a governing party, you have to understand that the majority of voters are women in this country, and winning women is important to becoming a governing party.”
Women are more likely to vote than men, and according to exit polling from the midterm elections, they favored Democrats over Republicans 59 percent to 40 percent. Men sided with the Republicans, but only by a margin of 4 percentage points. A similar outcome next year could make Trump a one-term president.
Stefanik said the lack of Republican women in the House is exacerbating the problem — more so, she seems to think, than Trump. So few women, literally a baker’s dozen, has translated into just one woman in senior leadership, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and just one woman serving as the top Republican on a major committee, Rep. Kay Granger of Texas on House Appropriations.
Compare that to the Democrats, who elected scores of women in 2018 and count multiple women as their senior leaders, starting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Stefanik decided that the best way to combat all of these imbalances was to elect more Republican women to Congress.
So, she relinquished her post as the Republican in charge of candidate recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP campaign arm, and formed a new political action committee, Elevate PAC. The group plans to play in contested primaries strictly on behalf of female candidates, especially in seats drawn to elect Republicans.
Stefanik is very open about modeling her effort after EMILY’s List, the successful liberal group that focuses on electing pro-choice Democratic women.
“Some of my women colleagues who lost this past election, I think they could have used more financial support in their races and I think there should have been a recognition from leadership that these are valuable, valuable voices and members we want to keep,” Stefanik said.
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