To win with women, how can the GOP ramp up its appeal?

The last time a majority of American women voted for a Republican presidential candidate was 1988. Since then, more women have chosen Democrats, often by double digits. Even at the state legislative and congressional levels, the majority of women serving are Democrats. Political director Lisa Desjardins reports on efforts to find, recruit and elect more Republican women to office.

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  • Editor’s Note:

    The NewsHour referred to an out-of-date figure in this story when describing the number of members of the political organization Emily's List. The number is now 3 million, according to the organization.


    Tomorrow night, the Republican candidates for president will gather once again on a debate stage, this time in California at the Ronald Reagan Library.

    The prime-time gathering will feature at least one new face, Carly Fiorina, whose very presence will highlight one key challenge for Republicans: the need to appeal to women voters.

    Political director Lisa Desjardins has a preview tonight from Simi Valley.


    This townhouse in Texas holds both the challenge and the hope for Republican women.

    Missy Shorey is setting up her new home office in Dallas. From this desk, she directs a national organization called Maggie's List, named after Maine Republican Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both the U.S. House and Senate. The prime goal of Maggie's List? Find, recruit and elect more Republican women to office. A secondary goal is to ramp up Republican appeal to women in general.

  • MISSY SHOREY, Maggie’s List:

    Women are not just a factor in elections. They are the factor in this election. And it's time that people have finally done the math and seen that, indeed, we represent 53 percent of the vote. And the sad reality is, is that, as Republicans and conservatives, we haven't always done the best job at reaching out.


    The last time a majority of American women voted for a Republican presidential candidate was 1988. George H.W. Bush edged out Michael Dukakis with women in exit polls that year.

    But, since then, women have gone the other way, choosing Democrats. It is an advantage Hillary Clinton and her supporters are pressing.

  • WOMAN:

    We are all here to kick off Women for Hillary.


    But a new poll shows Hillary doesn't have a lock on women's votes. Just 42 percent of Democratic-leaning women say they support her, a sharp drop from 71 percent in July.

  • CARLY FIORINA, Republican Presidential Candidate:

    Thank you so very much.


    Enter Carly Fiorina.


    If you're ready for a woman president, how about one who is honest and competent and can do the job?


    Fiorina has pushed back at Clinton, and pushed out a conservative definition of feminism about jobs and security.

    And that brings us here, to tomorrow's presidential debate, where, of course, Fiorina will be the only woman on the debate stage. That is a concern for some Republicans. But how do they get more women to run for president? Some say they need to encourage more women to run for other offices, local, state, and Congress. But that is also a problem for Republicans.

    You could see it in Congress last week. House Republicans leaving their weekly meeting were a line of men. Of 247 Republicans, just 23 are women.

    Members like Utah's Jason Chaffetz openly acknowledge it. REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), Utah: Well, we need as many female candidates on the ballot as we possibly can.


    We asked Tennessee Congresswoman Diane Black, who co-founded a women's policy group.

    How do Republicans get more women in Congress?

    REP. DIANE BLACK (R), Tennessee: Well, we, of course, have been working on that for the last several years. The difficulty right now is the there aren't a whole lot of opportunities out there for us, because we have got a lot of seats that are already — 247 seats, so it's — it's difficult.


    And already filled by men, yes.


    Well, if men then decide to retire — we, of course, aren't going to primary our own guys. But if men do decide to retire, we are recruiting women for those positions.

  • JENNIFER LAWLESS, American University:

    Democrats are way ahead. About between 60 and 70 percent of the women who serve at the state legislative and congressional levels are Democrats.


    Jennifer Lawless runs the Women & Politics Institute At American University. She also is a Democrat who advises women in her party on how to run for office.


    Hi. This is Jennifer Lawless returning your call.


    It may surprise some, but she says reproductive issues, Planned Parenthood and abortion, divide women almost evenly and do not advantage either party nationally. What does matter? She says economic fairness and diversity.


    We're talking about the economy and national security and a general sense of what's the best direction to move the country forward. And women are generally more likely to believe the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party's candidates are diverse and understand a diverse group of people's preferences and backgrounds and circumstances.


    In Dallas, Missy Shorey is pushing back against Democrats, arguing that jobs, the economy and taxes are where conservatives can win with women.


    These are women's issues. They're called pocketbook issues. The reality is that, right now, 40 percent of all households in the United States, the primary breadwinner is a woman. And no one is talking about this and no one is respecting the fact that government keeps on grabbing for our purses.


    Groups like hers are starting to change the face of the Republican Party. Maggie's List helped launch Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer and a few dozen others. The group has 7,000 members. But that's a fraction of the Democratic equivalent, EMILY'S List, and its two million members. Shorey is undaunted.


    We are positive, because when we're taking a stand and raising the issues, we're getting tremendous support. There's a de facto myth out there that, somehow, because you're a woman, that you're automatically a liberal.


    As the candidates battle for the nomination tomorrow night, their party hopes the debate helps win the fight for female voters.

    For the PBS NewsHour, Lisa Desjardins, Simi Valley, California.

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