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GOP Faces 2016 Quandary: Why No Women Candidates?

GOP Faces 2016 Quandary: Why No Women Candidates?

By Scott Conroy - July 25, 2014

The wide-open fight for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination appears certain to showcase a range of credible candidates, who differ from one another in both style and substance.  

What the next crop of top-tier GOP contenders may not feature, however, is a woman. 

The Republicans taking discernible steps to build the foundations required for White House runs are all men.  And for a party trying to close the gender gap, the prospect of an all-male lineup may pose a significant public perception problem.   

After the 2012 race saw President Obama defeat Mitt Romney by a double-digit margin among women, one way in which national Republicans have been aiming to do better has been by promoting some of their female rising stars.  

Two governors, in particular -- New Mexico’s Susana Martinez and South Carolina’s Nikki Haley -- are frequently mentioned as vice-presidential material. Additionally, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers -- who delivered the Republican response to the president’s 2014 State of the Union address -- have also been singled out as solid national prospects.  

But none of these women has begun to build the kind of fundraising network and political operation required to mount a serious bid for the Oval Office. 

With Hillary Clinton the runaway favorite to become the Democrats’ next standard-bearer (and the first-ever female nominee from a major party), the concern that the GOP race will be perceived as a men’s-only affair is all the more glaring.  

“It worries me because we want a woman who reflects our principles and values to be running for president,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List -- a group that promotes female candidates who oppose abortion rights. “I’m worried that we don’t have that at this particular moment when there’s so much conversation about what it means to be supportive of women.” 

Even if Clinton decides against a second presidential run, the Democrats are likely to boast at least one female candidate in their field of contenders. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has signaled interest in running, and both Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand might also join the race.  

But on the Republican side, the pickings are far slimmer.  

Michele Bachmann told RCP this week that she would consider running for president again, but after her 2012 presidential bid ended abruptly with a deflating sixth-place finish in Iowa, the outgoing Minnesota congresswoman would struggle this time to be viewed as a legitimate contender.

Still, Bachmann believes it is too early to say the Republican field won’t include a serious female candidate, noting that the only woman on either party’s ticket in the 2008 general election was on the GOP side: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. 

“It’s entirely possible that we’ll have a very strong bench of women who decide to put their name in,” Bachmann said.  

Last spring, Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn indicated through a member of her staff that she might be persuaded to join the race: An aide told RCP, “If there’s a door to kick down, she’s willing to kick it down.” 

But Blackburn has not taken visible steps toward mounting a campaign, and she would be a long-shot prospect if she did enter the race.  

Dana Perino -- who, under George W. Bush, served as the first female White House press secretary to a Republican president -- predicted that Democrats would try to make an issue of the absence of a Republican woman in the presidential mix.  

But Perino also singled out Martinez, Haley and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin as leaders who have the potential to reach the national stage.   

“I think it’s not entirely a bad thing for some of the women who could have great futures in higher office to continue to focus and do a really good job in their states,” she said. “So I don’t think any woman is going to magically appear in 2016 on the Republican ticket, but I do think they’re being smart in setting up some ways to have a platform to run on.” 

As the 2008 campaign demonstrated, the placement of a woman on the Republican ticket does not necessarily mean that more female votes will follow.

And GOP operatives remain confident that disappointment with the Obama administration will lead to gains among both genders across the board this November and beyond.  

New Hampshire Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn said the possibility of an all-male Republican presidential slate doesn’t concern her “at all.”  

“The field has a lot of time to shape up still, but I don’t think voters are concerned about whether they’re voting for a man or woman,” Horn said. “I think they’re deeply concerned about whether they’re qualified to lead the country.” 

As the midterm elections approach, Democrats have continued to trumpet the charge that Republicans who don’t support an equal pay law, unfettered access to birth control and abortion rights are waging a “war on women.” And new evidence demonstrates why they believe this strategy, which helped to re-elect President Obama, is potentially an effective one.   

A poll conducted in a dozen Senate battleground states and released on Tuesday by the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research had Democrats trailing Republicans overall by a 46 percent to 44 percent margin. Additionally, the survey showed that Democrats’ once massive 20-point advantage among single women had been cut almost in half from 2010 to an 11-point lead now.  

But the same poll also showed this margin jumping back up to 20 points when unmarried women were presented with campaign messaging that is “aimed at their lives” -- code for the kinds of issues that Democrats pushed vigorously in 2012.  

“I think there’s a high likelihood that issues women care about are going to be perceived as under-addressed by the Republican Party, but I don’t think we actually need female candidates to address issues that women care about,” said Hoover Institute fellow Kori Schake, who was a senior policy adviser on the McCain/Palin campaign. “We as a party don’t do a very good job of talking about the issues that are predominant for most women, and we don’t talk about it in a language that’s inviting.”

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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