WASHINGTON • Rep. Ann Wagner, who is co-chairing an effort to recruit more Republican women to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, has seen mixed results.
A half dozen GOP women have navigated through treacherous GOP primaries or nominating conventions. Among them is Mia Love, who easily won a nominating convention in Utah last month and is favored to become the first female black Republican in the House.
But more have lost, and overall numbers of female recruits in both political parties are lagging behind 2012, a record year for women running for and winning seats in what has been long dubbed the people’s house.
With filing periods still open in many states, 196 women have filed for the House, 68 of them Republicans, according to the Center for American Woman and Politics at Rutgers University, or CAWP.
Eleven women have won nominations among Democrats, as have six Republican women. But nine Republican women have lost nominations to run in November general elections, compared with just three Democrats, according to CAWP.
Both parties have a way to go to top 2012, a record year for women running for Congress. According to CAWP, 298 women filed for office in 2012 — 190 Democrats and 108 Republicans. Of them, 118 Democrats won primaries, while just 48 Republicans did.
Of those 166 who survived to run in the November elections, 76 won House seats in 2012. But only 20 were Republicans, and the resignation of former Missouri Rep. Jo Ann Emerson reduced that by one.
Wagner, R-Ballwin, says that when she first walked into the Republican caucus shortly after arriving in Congress last year, the gender imbalance struck her.
“There are 234 members in our (Republican) conference, and guess what? There are 19 women,” Wagner said. “That is terrible. Women make up 54 percent of the electorate. We are on the front lines, know what it is like to make the spending decisions. ... Women are on the front lines of health care.”
Why have Republicans lagged in recruiting and electing women? “I don’t know,” said Wagner, who also tried to recruit women when she co-chaired the Republican National Committee from 1999-2005. “All I know is that I can just move forward from here.”
Democrats say GOP policies opposing abortion rights and President Barack Obama’s health-care initiatives hurt them with many women. Democrats have in recent elections charged Republicans with waging a “war” on women.
Wagner says Republican economic policies should appeal to women of all backgrounds. She said those who complain to her about downsides of Obama’s health care reform — higher premiums or higher deductibles among them — are most likely to be women in charge of family budgets.
Analysts who study voters and primary campaigns say that Republican women have an especially hard time getting through their party primaries because of who votes in them.
“Republicans are likely to see a small uptick in their number of women in 2014, but it’s still a gradual change,” said David Wasserman, an analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “Part of the problem for Wagner and her allies is shepherding women through tough primaries.”
“Republican primary voters are less likely than Democratic primary voters to be women,” he said, “and are less likely to value gender parity in Congress as a motivator in their votes.”
Along with Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., Wagner is helping the National Republican Congressional Committee recruit Republican women to run for the House this fall.
Two women that she supported in Florida special House elections this year lost. In one case, money helped make the difference — a challenge for Republican women trying to raise money to compete.
In one, businessman Curt Clawson lent his campaign $2.6 million and defeated former Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto.
Last month, Republican David Jolly won a special election to replace the late Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., after Jolly defeated former state Rep. Kathleen Peters in a GOP primary.
“All we can do is provide the advice and get behind them and support them,” Wagner said of Republican women candidates. “These are two special elections (in Florida) but I am looking at the long haul, 2014 and beyond.”
But those pushing for more GOP women in Congress were heartened when Love won her primary in Utah and Barbara Comstock won in a “firehouse primary” nominating contest in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington.
Wagner said she disagreed with critics who say the GOP has a relatively weak bench, with a lack of Republican women serving in state and local offices.
“Some of (the potential candidates) have legislative backgrounds,” she said, “but what I am looking for in recruiting” are “farmers, doctors, members of the military, grandmas. I would much rather have women with real-world experience.”