Still, Democratic female consultants are confident they outnumber their Republican colleagues in the industry by a fairly wide margin.
“The only female Republican consultants I’ve ever met are a pollster and two fundraisers,” says Liz Chadderon of the Chadderon Group. “To my knowledge, I have never met a female Republican direct mail consultant, and I’ve never met a female Republican media consultant. That leads me to believe we have more women out running campaigns and in the consulting field than they do ... I don’t by any stretch of the imagination think we’ve reached parity on our side of the aisle, but I think we’re better than they are.”
One set of statistics backs Chadderdon up. On the board of the American Association of Political Consultants, six of the 10 slots for Democrats are filled by women. Only three of 11 on the GOP side are female.
“A woman Republican consultant is an anomaly,” says Ondine Fortune, a media consultant and an AAPC board member. “When you’re talking about Republican women, it’s a small pool. And I think a lot of that has to do with the politics of the party. The politics are, in many cases, anti-women.”
The way that many Republican candidates talked to and about women voters in 2012 was counter-productive and even offensive at times, several female GOP consultants told C&E. Think Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments during the Missouri Senate race.
“Every party has their extremists, and unfortunately some of the extremists on the conservative side have a tendency to be somewhat offensive to women,” says Fletcher Fraher. But even having a “large” contingent of female advisers is no guarantee of success. Despite his “binders full of women” gaffe, Romney had a solid record of hiring women as a governor and as a candidate. Still, Romney’s numbers with female voters weren’t any better than John McCain’s in 2008.
“Republicans are not doing as well with women voters as we should be, and it’s like, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” asks Fletcher Fraher. “Is it because we don’t have enough female voices in the inner circles of those campaigns, or is it because we are communicating poorly to women and therefore there’s less interest in being a part of it? I think it’s probably the former. I think we just don’t have enough talented political female minds at the table of every campaign across the nation.”
It’s worth noting that, in the area of fundraising, women have retained a large share of the campaign consulting market. The fundraising world has more women owners, consultants and finance directors than any other part of the campaign industry.
Some female campaign veterans remember when fundraising was the only place a woman was welcomed on a campaign. There’s a reason, says Ann Herberger, why women have come to dominate the field.
“The guys get into it thinking, ‘Oh, this is so sexy, I’m going to be in the money-making world.’ And then they find out it’s a lot of crap. ‘What, I have to sit with the candidate making phone calls? I have to do grunt work? I have to print nametags? This isn’t what I signed up for,’’’ she says. “It’s a grind. It’s a tough business to stay in. People either love it and they stay in it, or they get out of fundraising very fast.”
There’s no question that women in the industry are as dedicated to the campaign craft as their male colleagues. Why else work the hours? But for the GOP’s female consultants and operatives, something needs to change.
“We don’t necessarily need to treat women any differently, we just need to treat them with the same respect and value their opinions just as much as the man’s sitting at the table,” says Fletcher Fraher.
Meanwhile, Mortham, who says she’s still looking forward to meeting with Doster, is skeptical but hopeful. “I think the answer is still out,” she says, “as to whether or not everybody really has woke up and said, ‘you know what, we can do better, and these are the things we have to do in order to be better.’”
Sean J. Miller is a contributing editor to Campaigns & Elections magazine.
*Corrections: The original version of this article named Jill Neunaber as Romney's state manager in New Hampshire in the general election. Neunaber managed Iowa in the general, and New Hampshire in the GOP primary. The article also incorrectly identified Angela Faulkner's firm as Faulkner Strategies. The firm name is Gridiron Communications.