Republicans Don’t Have a Single Woman Running a Battleground Senate Campaign

GOP operatives accuse the party of pushing its female staffers away from leadership paths offered to men.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (2nd-R) speaks to the media while flanked by U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) (L), U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) (2nd-L), U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) (3rd-L), and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)(3rd-L), on November 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. The Senators spoke briefly to reporters after attending a policy luncheon.
National Journal
Jan. 26, 2014, 9:42 a.m.

Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates want to do bet­ter with wo­men voters. The people run­ning their cam­paigns might make that more dif­fi­cult.

The po­s­i­tion of cam­paign man­ager is the top job in any run for of­fice, the per­son who — be­sides the can­did­ate — is re­spons­ible for all the cam­paigns’ activ­it­ies. Yet a Na­tion­al Journ­al sur­vey of the key Sen­ate races of 2014 found that only two out of 33 GOP cam­paigns had fe­male cam­paign man­agers. In states ex­pec­ted to fea­ture the most com­pet­it­ive gen­er­al-elec­tion races, the dis­par­ity is even worse: Re­pub­lic­ans have zero wo­men run­ning cam­paigns.

Cam­paign man­agers aren’t the end-all, do-all, be-all of cam­paigns — con­sult­ants and oth­er ad­visers of­ten play a big­ger role in craft­ing a can­did­ate’s mes­sage and agenda. But the paucity of wo­men in the top spot has raised fears the party is still ill-equipped to reach wo­men in 2014. Among some fe­male Re­pub­lic­an op­er­at­ives, the frus­tra­tion is palp­able.

“What is dis­turb­ing to me is there are not enough seni­or-level wo­men across the board,” said Katie Pack­er Gage, a former deputy cam­paign man­ager for Mitt Rom­ney who last year es­tab­lished a con­sult­ing firm to help Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates talk to fe­male voters. “If you don’t have a per­son in that spot, then you need to make sure you have that role in your con­sult­ing firm, or mak­ing your ads. You have to have that voice and it’s not enough to have the can­did­ate’s spouse play­ing that role.”

“You need to have strong wo­men that can ad­voc­ate for a dif­fer­ent way of look­ing at things,” she ad­ded. “I feel like that is miss­ing.”

GOP of­fi­cials strongly dis­agree, con­tend­ing that wo­men hold a pleth­ora of crit­ic­al posts on im­port­ant cam­paigns. They ar­gue that Demo­crat­ic staffers are over­whelm­ingly male, point­ing spe­cific­ally to a lack of wo­men in lead­er­ship jobs in Pres­id­ent Obama’s White House and his re-elec­tion cam­paign. (Re­pub­lic­an of­fi­cials did not draw a com­par­is­on with staff on Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate cam­paigns.)

“If you look at any sub­jects through a nar­row enough lens, Demo­crats can come to any con­clu­sion they want,” said Brook Hougesen, a spokes­wo­man for the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee. “It’s ut­terly false to say that any cam­paign man­ager, male or fe­male, has uni­ver­sal con­trol of mes­saging on any cam­paign. There are can­did­ates, poll­sters, and spouses. To dis­count these vi­tal fe­male mem­bers is just of­fens­ive.”

But in the battle for the Sen­ate ma­jor­ity, only two GOP cam­paigns have wo­men in charge, and one of them is a tea party in­sur­gent run­ning against a sit­ting Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or backed by the NR­SC. In Mis­sis­sippi, Melanie So­journ­er runs state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s in­sur­gent ef­fort against Sen. Thad Co­chran, while in Ten­ness­ee, Alice Rolli heads up Lamar Al­ex­an­der’s re-elec­tion cam­paign. Neither will face a vi­able Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent in the fall.

By con­trast, more than a third of the Demo­crat­ic cam­paigns in key Sen­ate races are led by fe­male cam­paign man­agers — five out of 13 cam­paigns sur­veyed by Na­tion­al Journ­al. And all five are po­si­tioned in states likely to fea­ture a mar­quee battle in the fall: Nat­alie Ten­nant’s race in West Vir­gin­ia, Sen. Mark Be­gich’s in Alaska, John Walsh’s in Montana, Rep. Bruce Bra­ley’s in Iowa, and Gary Peters in Michigan.

It’s in gen­er­al elec­tions, where their can­did­ates face off against Demo­crats that Re­pub­lic­ans most struggle to con­nect with fe­male voters. Led by Demo­crat­ic ac­cus­a­tions the GOP was wa­ging a “war on wo­men,” Re­pub­lic­ans suffered a huge gender gap in re­cent elec­tions: In 2012, Pres­id­ent Obama won 55 per­cent of the fe­male vote against Rom­ney.

Voters won’t care if cam­paigns don’t have fe­male staffers. But GOP strategists worry cam­paigns that make ma­jor de­cisions — like the craft­ing of TV ad­vert­ise­ments — without the guid­ance of fe­male op­er­at­ives risk ham-handed mes­sages that can re­pel the very voters they’re try­ing to at­tract.

For a party whose own re­cent his­tory is re­plete with re­marks per­ceived as in­sens­it­ive to wo­men, it’s an anxi­ety felt acutely. The most re­cent ex­ample came last week when former pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Mike Hucka­bee talked about wo­men’s “li­bidos.” He was try­ing to sug­gest Demo­crats be­lieve wo­men are “help­less” and want to make them de­pend­ent on the gov­ern­ment for birth con­trol, but whatever sub­stant­ive point in­ten­ded was lost in the at­ten­tion garnered by the words he chose.

“It’s really im­port­ant to have a lot of voices at the table, es­pe­cially when wo­men make up a ma­jor­ity of voters,” said Kristen Solt­is An­der­son, a GOP poll­ster work­ing with Min­nesota Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate can­did­ate Mike Mc­Fad­den.

Oth­er fe­male con­sult­ants are more caustic in their as­sess­ment of the party and its cam­paign man­age­ment cul­ture. Kim Al­fano, a Re­pub­lic­an strategist who has worked with former In­di­ana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Iowa Gov. Terry Bran­stad, blamed a frat-boy cul­ture at the NR­SC and oth­er top GOP firms for ali­en­at­ing wo­men. She called the last Sen­ate cam­paign she worked on, Dick Lugar’s los­ing ef­fort in a 2012 primary, “the worst ex­per­i­ence of my life.”

“The sen­at­ori­al com­mit­tee has been no­tori­ously hack­ish,” she said. “They’re all 30-something, maybe mar­ried but maybe un-mar­ried guys. And they ba­sic­ally want to roll in­to town, kill your op­pon­ent for you, and roll out of town. And it hasn’t been a good mod­el for them.”

The NR­SC fired back at Al­fano’s ac­cus­a­tion. “The NR­SC has one clearly defined goal — win­ning the ma­jor­ity — and no or­gan­iz­a­tion will dis­tract us from that mis­sion,” said Hougesen. “Al­though the com­mit­tee is not fa­mil­i­ar with Ms. Al­fano, we wish her noth­ing but the best.”

Hougesen said half of the group’s staff this cycle are wo­men and that the com­mit­tee was “proud to have worked with our can­did­ates to se­cure the best tal­ent avail­able, in­clud­ing many hard­work­ing wo­men.”

But some Re­pub­lic­an primar­ies, des­pite fea­tur­ing a hand­ful of con­tenders, don’t have a single fe­male cam­paign man­ager. In Geor­gia, for in­stance, the top five hope­fuls — Reps. Jack King­ston, Paul Broun, and Phil Gin­grey, wealthy busi­ness Dav­id Per­due, and former Sec­ret­ary of State Kar­en Han­del — each have a male cam­paign man­ager. The same is true in Iowa, where none of the four strongest can­did­ates — busi­ness­man Mark Jac­obs, state Sen. Joni Ernst, talk ra­dio host Sam Clo­vis, and ex-U.S. At­tor­ney Matt Whi­taker — have a fe­male cam­paign man­ager.

“If that room where de­cisions are made is chock full of men mak­ing these mes­saging de­cisions, that’s prob­lem­at­ic, even if you have a fe­male me­dia per­son,” said Craig Robin­son, former polit­ic­al dir­ect­or for the Iowa Re­pub­lic­an Party. “You need a wide per­spect­ive when you’re talk­ing about those de­cisions. Maybe this is one of the reas­ons why Re­pub­lic­ans do really struggle talk­ing with wo­men.”

There’s a per­cep­tion among Re­pub­lic­ans that Demo­crats simply do a bet­ter job re­cruit­ing, train­ing, and re­tain­ing tal­en­ted op­er­at­ives who can serve as cam­paign man­agers on big-time Sen­ate races. The data seem to back that up: Pro­gress­ive polit­ic­al firm New Or­gan­iz­ing In­sti­tute crunched num­bers from Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­ports and found that 39.8 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­an staffers on 2012 cam­paigns were wo­men com­pared with the 46.4 per­cent of staff on Demo­crat­ic cam­paigns who were wo­men.

Many Re­pub­lic­ans don’t blame overt sex­ism for the lack of fe­male rep­res­ent­a­tion in GOP cam­paigns. The prob­lems start well be­fore those de­cisions are made, when ju­ni­or-level wo­men aren’t cul­tiv­ated to learn and ap­ply for polit­ic­al- and ex­ec­ut­ive-level po­s­i­tions. One Re­pub­lic­an in­volved in the pro­cess, gran­ted an­onym­ity to speak can­didly, said many young wo­men are of­ten “shuffled” in­to the com­mu­nic­a­tions and fin­ance de­part­ments. Those are im­port­ant jobs, GOP op­er­at­ives say, but they of­ten aren’t the ones mak­ing fi­nal de­cisions.

“In the same way that we are really fo­cused on a build­ing a strong bench of fe­male can­did­ates “… that has to hap­pen on the cam­paign side,” said the poll­ster Solt­is An­der­son. “Let’s make sure we have lots of wo­men in the ju­ni­or staff rolls but that they are offered an op­por­tun­ity to move up. So when cam­paigns go look­ing for cam­paign man­agers, they’re get­ting a pile of re­sumes.”

The Re­pub­lic­an cam­paigns sur­veyed by Na­tion­al Journ­al are:

1. Dan Sul­li­van, Alaska

2. Mead Tread­well, Alaska

3. Tom Cot­ton, Arkan­sas

4. Ken Buck, Col­or­ado

5. Jack King­ston, Geor­gia

6. Phil Gin­grey, Geor­gia

7. Paul Broun, Geor­gia

8.Dav­id Per­due, Geor­gia

9. Kar­en Han­del, Geor­gia

10. Mark Jac­obs, Iowa

11. Matt Whi­taker, Iowa

12. Sam Clo­vis, Iowa

13. Joni Ernst, Iowa

14. Pat Roberts, Kan­sas

15. Mitch Mc­Con­nell, Ken­tucky

16. Bill Cas­sidy, Louisi­ana

17. Terri Lynn Land, Michigan

18. Mike Mc­Fad­den, Min­nesota

19. Ju­li­anne Ort­man, Min­nesota

20. Thad Co­chran, Mis­sis­sippi

21. Chris McDaniel, Mis­sis­sippi (run by Melanie So­journ­er)

22. Steve Daines, Montana

23. Ben Sas­se, Neb­raska

24. Shane Os­born, Neb­raska

25. Thom Tillis, North Car­o­lina

26. Greg Bran­non, North Car­o­lina

27. Mark Har­ris, North Car­o­lina

28. Lind­sey Gra­ham, South Car­o­lina

29. Mike Rounds, South Dakota

30. Lamar Al­ex­an­der, Ten­ness­ee (run by Alice Rolli)

31. John Cornyn, Texas

32. Ed Gillespie, Vir­gin­ia

33. Shel­ley Moore Capito, West Vir­gin­ia

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