If the GOP wants to take back the U.S. Senate, it will need the help of the "Mama Grizzlies."
From Georgia to Montana women are expected to run for Senate seats in 18 states this fall. And 16 Republican women, one shy of a record set in 2012, are likely to be on ballots.
As with recent election cycles, the roster of strong Republican women running in November should be a factor in determining the balance of power in Congress, political observers tell Newsmax.
"I’m very excited to see more women running for office," former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told Newsmax in an exclusive interview by email. "I’m a huge supporter of what I call the 'Mama Grizzlies' in the conservative movement.
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"These are common-sense conservative women who protect their cubs and who are determined to clean up the fiscal mess in D.C. so that we can protect the blessings of liberty and prosperity for our children and grandchildren."
So far, 53 women have filed to run for open House seats this fall, including 19 Republicans, according to the Center for American Women in Politics
at Rutgers University.
Seventy-three incumbent women (17 Republicans) are running for office and 98 women (38 Republicans) are challenging incumbents.
Currently, 79 women (19 Republicans) serve in the House, which is controlled by the GOP.
In the Senate, where 20 women (four Republicans) hold seats, the Democrats are in charge. But The GOP needs only six seats to gain the majority.
Six Republicans are among the nine women who have filed to run for open Senate seats in six states this fall, according to the CAWP data. Fourteen women, including nine from the GOP, are expected to run as challengers.
"We are really excited about the quality and the caliber of the candidates who have already jumped in — and we hope more will do," Kevin McLaughlin, senior adviser to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Newsmax. "That will make it even more of a possibility and a reality.
"Right now, we are in play in 9 to 12 [Senate] seats, and could be in play with as many as 14 seats come late spring," he said. "This is with the idea that we need to capture six seats to take the majority."
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Republican women are "stepping forward" to provide the leadership Americans are looking for.
McMorris Rodgers, who represents Washington state, heads the House Republican Conference, the No. 4 leadership role in the lower chamber. She also was selected to deliver the GOP's response to President Obama's State of the Union address.
"When people do think of women running for office, there are some qualities that they associate with women that they are hungry for in their legislators," McMorris Rodgers told Newsmax. "Women are seen as problem-solvers, better listeners — that they understand the concerns of people.
"They're willing to work across the aisle at times to get the job done. They have many qualities that people are looking for."
"Women are essential to the success of the Republican party," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. "Our experiences and viewpoints often can bring a different perspective to an issue."
First elected in 1996, Collins is the longest-serving Republican woman currently in the Senate — and her many committee assignments include the Intelligence Committee.
"But we believe in the core principles of individual responsibility, personal liberty, federalism, and a strong national defense," Collins, who is facing re-election this fall, told Newsmax. "While Republicans don’t always agree on how best to accomplish these goals, we are united by these principles as a party."
Two-term Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who once chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that "a Congress that looks and thinks like America can only lead to better and more comprehensive policy-making.
"However, what is most notable about this new crop of women candidates is not their gender but their poise, intellect, and ability to make policy."
Among the high-profile Senate races in which women will play key roles:
- Democrats Michelle Nunn and Steen Miles and Republican and former Secretary of State Karen Handel are running for the seat vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss in Georgia.
- Democrat Natalie Tennant and Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito are running to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller in West Virginia.
- State Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa, who is among several GOP candidates vying to succeed another retiring Democrat, Sen. Tom Harkin.
- Financial planner Jo Rae Perkins and pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby are heading into a primary in Oregon against state Rep. Jason Conger.
- Minnesota state Sen. Julianne Ortman, who is among three Republicans in a primary battle to challenge Democratic Sen. Al Franken in November.
- Sens. Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, two "red-state" Democrats who are vulnerable this year. Both are facing strong challengers that include men in their re-election bids.
"You can make the argument that women on both sides of the aisle will be in play in some of the hottest races to determine who will control the Senate," said Kelly Dittmar, CAWP's assistant research professor.
Before extolling 2014 as "The Year of the Republican Woman," Katie Packer Gage, a partner with the Republican strategy firm Burning Glass Consulting, warned to Newsmax: "Women are 53 percent of the electorate. I wouldn't like to think that we only get one year. I would like to think that we get a crack at this every year.
"I don't think you have to be a woman to articulate a message that women can respond to," Gage said. "It's all about your ability to articulate that message."
Likewise, said Kellyanne Conway, a GOP strategist and pollster.
"It's the quality of the candidate. Candidates matter. What that woman has to say and what she believes and what she would do as an office-holder is much more important than the fact that she is a she."
Women will, however, have a great impact this fall — as voters, not candidates, debate expert and pollster Matt Towery tells Newsmax.
"Even if you get a Republican female as a nominee, oftentimes their positions on issues like abortion, pay issues, policy issues, don't ultimately bring in those swing female independent voters," Towery said. "Female independent voters generally tend to be more moderate, or they would identify themselves as Republicans.
"Yes, it will be the year of the Republican woman, but it won't be the year necessarily of the Republican-elected woman," he concluded. "It will be the year of converting women who are independents into voting Republican."
While the road to Capitol Hill is no different for GOP women — they still have to raise money and win primaries — they must grapple with a particular gender issue, observers told Newsmax: They're seen as liberal, regardless of their conservative credentials.
"Women tend to be more moderate," said CAWP's Dittmar. "That's been the case, historically. But even for the women who actually aren't more moderate, the electorate perceives them as being more moderate. That works to their disadvantage.
"For Democratic women, being liberal works to their advantage, but it works against Republican women because usually primary electorates are more conservative," she added. "They've got to prove that they're not more liberal."
But, for any candidate, man or woman, Republican or Democrat, the key to success is still about raising money and support and winning primaries.
"The primaries make better general-election candidates," said NRSC's McLaughlin. "People from the states should pick the people who they want to represent them, not only in the general election, but in the U.S. Senate. The primaries are a strong show of democracy."
"It's about finding the right person in these races," McMorris Rodgers told Newsmax. "Primaries are always challenging, but we have some rock-star conservative women who are running."
To help Republican women candidates raise money, a number of political action committees have sprung up in recent years to finance GOP women candidates. All are modeled off Emily's List, which was founded in 1985 and backs Democratic pro-choice women.
They include Maggie's List
, established in 2010 by former Florida Secretary of State Sandra Mortham; the Voices of Conservative Women
, founded in 2009 in Minnesota; Women LeadPAC
, with headquarters in Indiana and is headed by former RNC finance committee co-chair Christine Toretti; and ShePAC
, created in 2012 and whose activities have involved such top Republicans as Palin and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
There's also Republican Majority for Choice, which evolved in 2004 from the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition
and supports pro-choice candidates.
But the oldest of the GOP genre is the Susan B. Anthony List
, a pro-life PAC founded in 1992.
"The modern Republican Party has come around and has seen the necessity for women running for public office," Marjorie Dannenfelser, SBA List's president, told Newsmax. "What everyone is hungry for is content, content of the message.
"Gender is important. The messenger is vital. Content is equally vital," she said.
"Republican women with a truly compelling message can expect to be seen as presidential and vice presidential candidates. Woman as woman is beautiful, but she's not necessarily always going to be the most-attractive candidate."
Conway, the GOP strategist, concurred.
"The reason that female Republican candidates have an advantage is because their perspective — the lens through which they live their lives and view issues and individuals and images — is decidedly different from that of their male counterparts," she told Newsmax. "Their message should neither be pro-woman or anti-man. The messenger is still only as powerful as the message.
"If a woman's running and expect to win just because she's a woman — she doesn't really have the political chops and the policy knowledge and the positions on issues — it probably won't work for the long haul," Conway added. "But if she does have all of those important components, it's often been a recipe for success."
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