Dr. Joan Perry was hope for Republican women. What happened?

By Gilda Geist by on July 16, 2019

Dr. Joan Perry and Rep. Greg Murphy have a lot in common. They were both candidates in the primary run-off for North Carolina’s third congressional district. They’re both doctors. They’re both Republicans. They’re both against abortion. But they also have one key difference — Murphy is advancing to the general election, and Perry isn’t. On July 9, in a race to fill a seat in Congress left by Walter Jones when he died, Murphy took home 60 percent of the vote, while Perry garnered only 40. 

This outcome highlights the Republican Party’s consistent struggle to elect women. While the results of the 2018 midterm election broke records for women’s representation, most of the victories were on the Democrats’ side. Democrats sent 89 women to the House of Representatives, while the number of Republican women in the House fell from 23 to 13. 

But why aren’t Republican women winning?

For one thing, they’re running at lower rates. In the 2018 midterm race, 801 Democratic men, 387 Democratic women, and 916 Republican men filed to run for Congress, while only 120 Republican women did. 

One way the Republican Party can combat this issue is by instating recruitment targets. At the local, state, and national levels, the Republican party should establish committees to analyze the state of women’s representation and set targets for how many women candidates they must recruit. Party leadership should also be monitoring changes in women’s representation to make sure the targets are being met. Republican elected officials can use their influence to put pressure on parties to set and enforce these practices. 

Another issue Republican women face is funding. Democratic women often have access to funding from political action committees that support progressive women, such as EMILY’s List, Elect Democratic Women PAC, National Federation of Democratic Women PAC, and more. PACs dedicated to supporting Republican women, however, are harder to find. 

Gender-focused PACs can make a difference. According to a June 10 New York Times article, the majority of outside spending in the North Carolina race came from the Winning for Women Action Fund, a PAC that supports Republican women, including Perry. The fact that Perry made it to the runoff but was unable to win shows that while the few PACs that are dedicated to Republican women are effective, there aren’t enough of them to have the same impact that Democratic women PACs do. 

Not only do Republican women receive less funding than most candidates, but they are also the biggest targets of oppositional outside spending. These financial barriers discourage Republican women from running, and if they do decide to run, they can make it more difficult to win. 

To ensure that campaign spending isn’t presenting an unfair disadvantage to Republican women, PACs and other donors should set goals for the number of women they support. This will help level the playing field for Republican women and ensure that people are elected based on their policies and ideas, not their money. 

Perry is hope for Republican women. She lost, but she made it further than 15 other candidates. She had the support of all 13 Republican congresswomen. She raised the money. She challenged the status quo.

Perry’s campaign shows us that there are intelligent, qualified Republican women who have what it takes to run and win. But for these women to do so, the Republican Party, PACs, and donors must step up and support them.

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