Their website may be pink, but they still know how to throw bombs. The first targeted Bill Maher and President Obama. In a You Tube montage scored to ominous music, the first conservative women’s super PAC floated what for liberals could be a difficult truth: that the war on women afflicts conservatives too, maybe even more acutely.
She-PAC recently was launched as a hybrid PAC and super PAC to fund conservative Republican women candidates, and to out “Democratic hypocrisy.” When the left swooped in to vindicate Sandra Fluke after the law student was attacked by belligerent, “slut”-calling Rush Limbaugh, She-PAC cofounders Suzanne Haik Terrell and Teri Christoph saw an opportunity to advocate for conservative women, who they feel are less heard.
“The Democrats want you to think they are the party of women,” said Terrell. “When they come out and boycott Rush; it’s phony when you don’t do it when conservative women are attacked too.”
Maher, She-PAC feels, is guilty of far worse—repeated attacks on Sarah Palin and conservative women, calling them “boobs” and “twats” with no remorse, then dropping $1 million into Obama’s super PAC, Priorities USA Action. In fact, Christoph said, not only did the left laugh at these jabs along with Maher, but these permissible attacks on women like Palin and Michele Bachmann spook conservative women who might otherwise run for office.
This and other reasons women aren’t as quick to run as men don’t seem partisan at all. Christoph said she’s seen that dialing for dollars can be harder for women, so too can combativeness and hubris. Women’s fear of ridicule is often greater, and mothers often hang back until their children have grown.
Like many women on both sides who seek office, conservative women who run She-PAC and the types of women they would support mostly avoid the “women’s ghetto” of social issues when stumping, and instead push hard-hitting stuff. But where She-PAC is concerned, that’s where the similarities end. On the right, the common agenda includes spending cuts, job creation, and rejecting any whiff of government involvement in business or health care.
“Give me a job first, we can talk contraception later,” said Christoph, who sees the recent conversation (and the president’s publicized call to Sandra Fluke) as Obama’s Hail Mary pass to win back the women who voted for him in 2008 but who have since strayed.
Since most super PACs work to support one candidate, She-PAC is unique for picking many. Quantity is part of the goal: speeding more conservative Republican women into House and Senate roles. She-PAC leaders say gender is paramount, but that the issues matter, too. They value conservative stances on social issues, despite only talking about them if specifically asked: they are pro-life, anti-government-mandated contraception coverage, and for marriage between a man and a woman.
Terrell says the majority of She-PAC’s donors themselves are women, and their average giving is $60 per person. That’s $1 more than Obama’s recently reported average donation of $59. She-PAC counted tens of thousands of dollars in donations brought in by the Maher video after it was picked up by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin and Sean Hannity. The left hardly responded to it at all. Terrell also reported quadruple growth in social media and website traffic since the video’s birth.
While it is well known that national office is dominated by men, conservative Republican women are an even smaller portion of the few women who serve (PDF). Of the 17 women senators, five are Republicans. In the house, 24 of 74 women representatives claim the GOP. She-PAC’s challenge is steep, but this year looks as bright as ever for conservative women with viable candidates seeking office nationwide. That, or the bar may be lower than before. Many see themselves as an extension of Palin’s mama grizzlies, but some don’t want that lineage at all.
The first and so far only candidate She-PAC has committed to fund is Mia Love, a black Mormon Tea Partier running for a newly created House seat in Utah. Love says she prioritizes business and job growth, reporting that Saratoga Springs, Utah, grew to 17,000 people from just 1,000 while she was its mayor.
“There’s a place for women in Washington,” Love told The Daily Beast. “Maybe the lack of women is why we have the problems we face.”
If elected, Love would be the first black Republican congresswoman. The mother of three claims she would “elect a shoe over the current president” and says she would favor a candidate who is a blend of Ron Paul and Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee.
While Romney has floundered to explain his religion, Love is confident in her faith. She calls her perspective on LDS unique because she grew up Catholic, and converted when she married her husband, who is white and who grew up in the LDS church. She identifies with the mama grizzlies and would rather keep her talking points trained on issues that have less to do with gender—like contraception—and more on matters like gas prices, job creation, and government “getting out of the way.”
Love brings exactly the type of fresh-faced diversity the GOP, and by extension, She-PAC desperately hanker for. And they were as attracted to her platform and ideas as they were to her background as the daughter of Haitians who immigrated to the U.S. “with $10 in their pocket” and who professed to Love that she shouldn’t “be a burden to society,” and that she should “give back.”
She-PAC says the group will back and help bankroll a number of conservative women as their states’ causes and primaries occur. Some prospects include Linda McMahon in Connecticut, Deb Fischer in Nebraska, and Sarah Steelman in Missouri, all for Senate, and in the House, Martha Zoller from Georgia.
Both Christoph and Terrell are veteran founders of organizations intended to recruit and train conservative women for political office. Christoph lives in Leesburg, Va., and says she comes from the grassroots side, having herself been galvanized by Palin’s emergence as a figure of great potential and seemingly endless ridicule.
Terrell says she was the first female state representative elected in Louisiana, in 1999, and that another woman hasn’t even run since. She challenged Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2002, and says she remembers the then governor, Mike Foster, wrote off the race as “two bitchy women running against each other.” It’s a wretched stereotype she says women office seekers should not have to overcome. That, along with the idea, she says, that Democrats portray women voters as caring only about abortion and contraception.
“I’m really tired of having liberal women speak for me,” said Martha Zoller, who is no stranger to boys’ clubs, working for 15 years hosting a conservative talk-radio show. “Any time there’s a women’s issue, the first person the media goes to is people who represent liberal points of view.”
Zoller’s primary is in July, and she’s after a newly created 20-county north-Georgia district. She counts endorsements from the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List and Georgia Right to Life, and is running on a platform of spending cuts, a fair tax, and overturning Obama legislation such as Dodd-Frank and health care. A spokesman said she’s polling 12 percentage points ahead of her closest opponent.
As Zoller put it: “I’m looking to put this country back on track not just for women, but for everybody.”
Zoller is 52 and an empty nester, so she says the time was finally right for her to run, but that she doesn’t see herself as an extension of the mama grizzlies. She, Love, and others She-PAC will support agree that running on what they see as the current president’s shortcomings takes precedence over doing it for women. Terrell says she realizes She-PAC’s job is to reach women voters with the women candidates, too.
“Women are important to the direction that this country can go,” she said. “If we want to reach women on the issues, they do need to see more women in more influential roles.”