Female Trouble

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  June 3, 2009

Now, as the Bush team has left town and Palin has returned to the obscurity of far-off Alaska, the GOP's lack of female faces has been exposed. Consider that, since 2003, the last 16 newly elected Republican US senators have all been men. In the lower chamber, others have departed, leaving a mere 17 Republican women in the 435-member US House of Representatives.

Those few Republican women who do hold notable elected offices are not getting nearly the amount of public face time as men in the party, either. In part, that's because they are mostly from small, out-of-the-way states: aside from Hutchison, they come from Alaska (Palin; Senator Lisa Murkowski), Maine (Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins), Hawaii (Governor Linda Lingle), Arizona (Governor Jan Brewer), and Connecticut (Governor Jodi Rell).

But there's another problem: most of those women are far too moderate to fit in with the conservatives now in power. That has certainly kept Maine's two senators, Snowe and Collins, from becoming familiar faces on TV's talk-show landscape, while their less experienced, less accomplished, but more hard-line colleagues, such as John Thune, Jim DeMint, and Jon Ensign (from South Dakota, South Carolina, and Nevada, respectively), make the regular rounds.

The increasingly hard-line GOP could not, for instance, even hope to send out any of its four female senators earlier this year to make the public argument against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for women to challenge discriminatory payment — because all four broke with the party to vote for the bill. (The only other Republican to do so was Arlen Specter, who has since become a Democrat.)

"It's the party's choice that Jodi Rell, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins are not national figures," says Jennifer Lawless, associate political-science professor at Brown University. "They can't be trotted out by a party that is trying to play to their conservative base."

Problem? What problem?
Much was made of the fact that two of the six candidates to head up the Republican National Committee this year were black. And yet no one mentioned that there were no female candidates for the job.

That shouldn't come as a surprise. Of the 14 major leadership positions among Senate and House Republicans, only one is held by a woman: conference vice-chair Cathy McMorris-Rogers, representative from Washington State — and hardly a recognizable face to most Americans.

Fortunately for the Republican Party, the 2010 election cycle will have an unusual number of open or competitive races for US Senate and governor, all over the country. Yet in state after state, the Republicans are recruiting men to run for those offices. "The partisan gap grew in 2008," says Elder, "and will grow further in 2010."

Political observers, including both Lawless and Elder, say that Republican leaders just don't seem to be making any effort to recruit female candidates.

Unlike the left, where groups like EMILY's List and Emerge actively recruit and train women for political careers — and pressure the Democratic Party into promoting women — conservative organizations have tended to back folks from the same old-boys networking circles, and have shown no interest at all in reaching out to women for high-profile offices.

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