Stefanik rolls out PAC committed to electing more GOP women
By Dan Freedman Published Thursday, January 17, 2019
Albany Times Union
WASHINGTON — Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, took center stage Thursday as arguably her party’s leading hope to recruit women Republican candidates and win back some suburban women voters who abandoned the GOP in droves in last year’s midterms.
“It’s a problem,” she said at the rollout of her rebranded leadership PAC — E-PAC, with E standing for Elise. “You need more women members to build the bench.”
The PACs new logo states: “Engage, empower, elevate. Electing More Republican Women.”
Before Thursday’s event, Stefanik said she’d hoped to raise $100,000 for the PAC. But actual contributions totaled around $250,000, she said to cheers from an audience of mostly of women (some of whom are potential GOP candidates).
The rollout marks the emergence of Stefanik, 34, as perhaps the most ardent feminist of the Republican party, something of a political counterpart to New York’s Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
Gillibrand, who earlier this week formed an exploratory committee for a potential 2020 presidential run, built a reputation for herself based on advocacy for paid family leave and against sexual abuse in the military and on campus.
As such, Stefanik is stepping out of the shadows as a district-focused representative, and into the wider horizon of gender politics. She is certain to face a substantial challenge.
College-educated women favored Democrats by seven percentage points in 2016, according to exit polls. Last year, the Democratic advantage among these women rose to 20 percentage points.
Democrats generally have pooh-poohed Republican efforts to recruit women candidates and thereby attract women voters. They point to critical issues favored by Republicans they see as antithetical to women, including opposition to legal abortion, support of Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” measures that are likely to drive up rates of uninsured, and hardline immigration policies to separate families at the border and build a wall.
Democrats consider President Donald Trump the single largest deterrent to Republican recruitment efforts among women. Trump has made repeated demeaning comments about women’s looks, and bragged on tape a decade ago about how he can get away with abusive behavior because he is a reality-TV star.
Few women candidates and lagging support among college-educated suburban women voters is “a problem that predates President Trump, and it will be a problem post-Trump,” Stefanik said. “It is a problem for the party.”
Stefanik, who represents the North Country, was in charge of recruitment of Republican congressional candidates in the most recent election cycle. Although she recruited 100-plus women to run in as Republicans, only about half made it through the primaries. When the dust settled after Election Day 2018, only one new woman Republican won election to the House.
Stefanik insisted it “wasn’t a recruitment failure,” but a failure to nurture women candidates.
At the meeting Thursday, Stefanik reflected on the aid she got in her unlikely bid at age 29 to win New York’s 21st Congressional District in 2014.
“I was a longshot underdog, who many said could not win a primary, let alone an election, in a swing district,” she said.
But she received support from a number of big-name Republicans, including former Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., for whom she’d served as debate coach in the 2012 presidential race. “I will never forget the faith they had in me,” she said.
E-PAC aims at taking the lead in funding and mentoring “non-traditional” candidates, she said, especially in the early stages.
“This program will be for women; it will be pre-primary, early dollars,” she said. “We will also work to elevate the profile of these women candidates, to make sure they earn media coverage. This early investment is crucial.”
Stefanik was careful not to step on toes of party elders, most of them white men.
And party leaders obliged. “If you want to be a representative government that reflects America, you need more women (in office),” said Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., now the House minority leader, during one of six panel discussions during the rollout Thursday.
Stefanik had gotten into a tiff with, Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., the new chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee. After Emmer said in an interview that Stefanik’s focus on recruiting women was a “mistake,” Stefanik tartly responded on Twitter: “NEWSFLASH! I wasn’t asking for permission.”
But those bygones were bygones Thursday, with Emmer making an appearance on a panel discussion at the rollout to discuss recruitment. Stefanik praised him, saying: “You’ve been wonderful.”
Later, Stefanik told reporters that “I know there was a lot of media coverage on the tit-for tat.”
But McCarthy and other leaders stepped up and were “pretty amazed at the outpouring for today’s event, she said.
Emmer, for his part, said he recognized that for Republicans to win back the majority they lost last year, they will have to improve with “the educated women that we lost in this last election” from “center-right suburbs.”
Democrats, particularly women Democrats, explain lack of support among women to Republicans as reflecting disagreements on issues such as abortion, health care, taxes and immigration.
But Stefanik insisted the larger GOP agenda appeals to women.
“We are a party that supports economic opportunity, freedom, constitutional liberty, and I believe that’s what resonates with women voters in this country. That’s what I find in my district.”
Read this article at Albany Times Union