Some female consultants and operatives have talked about making it easier for women to reenter the campaign workforce after they take time off to raise children. But that wouldn’t change the nature of the beast.
“It’s a difficult business. It’s an aggressive industry,” Bradshaw says. “And I think women don’t enjoy that.”
Experienced female campaign professionals also know their skills can translate into good jobs in other industries—PR or lobbying—which offer the kinds of benefits that can help with child rearing, like stable health insurance, family and sick leave, and flexible schedules. Those benefits are generally lacking in the campaign world.
“Let’s face it,” says Mandy Fletcher Fraher, a veteran manager, “once you have had a number of years on the campaign trail, and you get a decent amount of experience behind you, a lot of us are moving into the role of other motherhood. That’s not to say we can’t do both and don’t do both, but there’s a lot more on our plates and we become very efficient. So if we don’t feel like our opinions and our experience is being valued, we’re going to move on.”
Rather than focus on recruiting more women to the ticket, the GOP should focus on retaining and nurturing its talented female political operatives. By doing that, according to an active core of female consultants on the right, the party can change how it approaches the modern American woman, who is increasingly the breadwinner in many homes.
In fact, 40 percent of American households with children now include a mother who is either the sole or primary family earner. “Breadwinner moms,” as the Pew Research Center calls them, would be a receptive target of the Republican message on, for instance, taxes. But when it comes to single women, Republicans aren’t even close to being competitive. Four in 10 female voters are single, and Obama won single women by 36 percent.
“It’s not just all about social issues,” says Packer Gage. “We think there needs to be a smarter approach to communicating what our party stands for to women.”
Democrats have based their training for female operatives on social issues. EMILY’s List, for instance, has long been a guiding hand in the training of female campaign staffers and the recruitment of candidates. The group was founded with the goal of supporting female candidates who backed abortion rights. On the right there are groups like the Leadership Institute, which conducts trainings, but nothing that compares in terms of a women-focused political force.
Female Republicans are now trying to replicate the success of EMILY’s List in the form of Maggie’s List, a group founded in 2010 that for now just gives the federal maximum contribution to its supported candidates. “EMILY’s List has been extremely successful, and for that I congratulate them,” says Mortham, a former Florida secretary of state who chairs Maggie’s List. “We on the other hand have been more fragmented, and I believe that it’s time we stepped forward to say, ‘We can do the same thing.’”
Getting more women into leadership positions on campaigns and at the national party committees, the thinking goes, will help get more Republicans elected because candidates will have access to a wider array of opinions.
“We need more women in senior leadership positions on campaigns,” says Liesl Hickey, who as the executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee is one of the highest-ranking female operatives in the GOP. “I think we’ll see the benefit of it electorally.”
Campaign training, notes Hickey, isn’t just an issue for women; it’s lacking more generally on the right. “It has not been a focus in the party as much as it should be, and it’s something Democrats do well,” she says. “Women Up, Women Lead, and other women’s groups are starting great training programs, and those will be very useful to the party as a whole.”
Packer Gage is more candid: “I think that we certainly have some challenges winning elections because we don’t have enough women at the table,” she says, “and historically the Democrats and the left have had a more natural cultivating ground because they defined themselves as this sort of women’s issue party, and so they’ve had organizations like EMILY’s List and NOW [National Organization for Women] that have been in place for several decades and have cultivated a generation of women that are liberal in their thinking.”
Quantifying the gender imbalance between the parties isn’t easy. At the top level of the 2012 presidential campaigns, for instance, the Republicans appeared to have an edge. At least, that’s how it was presented at the Harvard Institute of Politics postmortem last December, when the senior staff from each camp appeared on stage together: Stephanie Cutter was the only woman on the left, Myers and Gail Gitcho the only women on the right.