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Democrats, Republicans make recruiting women a priority for '14

Top recruiters at both the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees are making no secret about it: They’re trying to recruit more women to run for House seats in the 2014 midterms.

“We are looking for women in those districts where we believe that we have an opportunity -- either through a retirement, an open seat, or even for a challenge that is a good challenge for us,” said Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), one of the recruiters this cycle for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “It really does bring a very complete picture to discussions on the issues.”

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), the recruitment chair for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says that she is emphasizing to ask women to run, especially those who haven’t before. “It may be true that men stand up and say ‘I want to run.’ Women have to come in a different way,” she said.

Why are women such a focus?

Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), the co-chair this cycle of Women LEAD, an arm of the DCCC that’s dedicated to electing more women to the House, explains that women have extra appeal in a political environment where Congress is gridlocked and unpopular.

“I think the public -- they’re looking for problem-solvers and people who can be more conciliatory or compromising … also trustworthy,” said Frankel. “I think that’s why women are more prime candidates. Maybe it’s also because [voters] are not blaming us for how paralyzed the Congress is today.”

Reps. Edwards and Black elaborated on their parties’ efforts to recruit more women in phone interviews. Here is some of what they had to say…

Q: Is the DCCC doing anything specific to recruit women from outside of politics, like you mentioned?

Edwards: We’re looking at the non-profit sector, in the business sector and other areas of the public sector – people who are firefighters, who are teachers. They bring a strong commitment to public service that really lends itself to the kind of responsibilities, the kind of problem-solving that we face in the Congress…. We can’t just continue to look at the traditional lawyers and elected officials as our pipeline for leadership in the 21st century.

Q: A new report by American University says that women are less likely to see themselves as qualified to run for office. What, if anything, are you doing at the DCCC to overcome that?

Edwards: Part of that is because we’ve always thought about people in elected office coming from a particular background, and I think that the more that we broaden that, the more that we can encourage younger women to think about their political ambitions early on -- because they see people who come from a range of different experiences in Congress.

Q: Is there anything different being done this cycle in terms of recruiting more women? Is anything new about female congresswomen mentoring recruits?

Black: I think what’s new about that is that we are utilizing the women that are currently serving. They’re being mentors for these candidates. I don’t know that we’ve been as strong at doing that before. It really is more difficult for a woman to make that decision, because of all of the responsibilities they have at home that they feel so strongly that is their role and their responsibility.

Q: Why do you think that the Republican Party traditionally has struggled to expand its ranks of female lawmakers?

Black: I think part of that is effort. I think it was done in the last election and it is even intensifying in this election. I think we have conservative women who feel a real commitment to their family – not to say that women who serve as Democrats don’t have that – but what I hear is a real struggle, you know, ‘My family needs me. I need to be there.’ I hear that consistently from women. I don’t know that we’ve done a good job in helping them understand that you can do both things and you can do them well.”