“If you look at the numbers, women are the majority of the population; we’re the majority of voters,” Thompson says. “We have a higher turnout ratio, and we’re the majority of consumers, the majority of television watchers. If you want to talk to the majority of voters, you have to craft a campaign that talks to women.”
Having more women at the proverbial table is, most Republicans agree, a good thing. For them, it’s a question of priorities. Some in the party’s leadership believe that recruiting more female candidates will attract a larger share of female votes. But for the female members of the GOP’s consulting class—the few partners or firm-owners—an approach that only focuses on candidate recruitment misses the point. It’s more female consultants and top-level operatives that are needed to shape the party’s targeting and messaging to women.
Hiring a female consultant or operative just for the sake of hiring one isn’t going to help the party, warns Jillian Hasner, who managed Meg Whitman’s 2010 California gubernatorial campaign. But, she says, it’s at least the start of changing what remains a male-dominated consulting culture.
“You can’t just think, ‘Oh, let’s have a women’s coalition director.’ It’s about completely changing how you run a campaign.”
Not everyone agrees that there’s a dearth of female operatives on the right, or that it has much at all to do with the party’s poor electoral performances over the past two presidential cycles.
“From my perspective, I don’t see it as an issue,” says Beth Myers, a top adviser to Romney during both his presidential campaigns. “Politics is a tough business, and it’s hard for anyone. I reject the premise that there are not a lot of women involved as operatives.”
Running of the number of female operatives at the highest levels of Romney’s 2012 effort, Myers notes that women ran campaign operations in three critical battlegrounds for the Republican nominee last year: Sara Craig in Virginia, Molly Donlin in Florida and Jill Neunaber in Iowa. In the Northeast, moreover, which Myers says has a strong contingent of female consultants and operatives, she points to Beth Lindstrom, who ran former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown’s special election race in 2009.
“The Romney campaign was the training ground for this next wave,” says Myers. “I think we’ve got a really, really strong bench of young women.”
It would seem that the GOP’s leadership and consulting class favors Myers’ view. Since last November, the party’s public focus has been on recruiting state-level female candidates through a multi-million dollar, multi-layered scouting and assistance program. Women, the Republican National Committee’s post-2012 report states, should be courted into the public arena. “The Republican Party committees need to understand that women need to be asked to run,” it states.
Ask some female Republican consultants and strategists about the candidate-focused approach, though, and they’ll point out a flaw. Even if the GOP gets a cohort of women running in upcoming cycles, women don’t automatically vote for a female candidate—one of the missing pieces might just be the lack of a female consulting perspective on some high-level GOP campaigns.
“If that were the case, we’d probably have a President Hillary Clinton today or a Vice President Sarah Palin,” says Hasner, now the CEO at Revolution 537.
Further, argues Hasner, having more female candidates won’t necessarily lead to more top-level female operatives getting hired. That’s because a female candidate won’t necessarily prefer female consultants and operatives to male ones. “Some candidates are not even involved in the hiring of their entire team,” says Hasner. “They hire their top person, their manager, and the manager goes out and hires the team.”
The RNC’s report acknowledges the problem, to wit: “The RNC must improve its efforts to include female voters and promote women to leadership ranks within the committee. Additionally, when developing our Party’s message, women need to be part of this process to represent some of the unique concerns that female voters may have.”
The consensus among women strategists on the right is that the problem of expanding the ranks of female operatives and consultants runs deeper than the party will admit. In the campaign world, much professional networking takes place around sports or beers after work.
“A lot of these settings that feel very male-focused are a little bit more difficult for a woman to break through in,” says Packer Gage, founder of Burning Glass Consulting, an all-women team of GOP operatives. “There’s a very social quality that’s a little bit more challenging to young women.”
Another challenge women in politics face hinges on the operative-consultant career track, which can send a person all over the map. Those who pursue it spend their 20s in hastily found apartments in random cities, and then, after Election Day, follow their contacts to the next campaign job. By the time a career campaign staffer reaches her 30s and gets her pick of management jobs, she faces a dilemma that her male colleagues don’t. One female consultant calls it a “Solomon’s choice.”
“Managing campaigns requires a tremendous commitment, and that is very difficult if you want to have a family,” says Sally Bradshaw, a top Florida strategist. “To be the caregivers for young children—it is difficult.”