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Washington Beat: Republican Party Seeks More Female Candidates

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Ahead of the next election cycle, the Republican Party is trying to win over more female voters, and they are starting that with a search for more female candidates, since right now, fewer than 10 percent of their Congress members are women. Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett filed the following report for NY1.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population, but only about 18 percent of the House of Representatives. That number is even lower among House Republicans.

"We only have 19 women in the Republican conference right now, which is only eight percent of the Republicans in the House of Representatives," said North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers. "So you can see the number is very, very low. It's obviously not representative of the country, and that's what we want to change,"

Ellmers is one of the leaders of a new House GOP program called Project Grow, which recruits conservative women to run for office. It's part of a larger, party-wide effort.

The renewed focus begs the question: Why are there fewer women in Congress?

"It's not because voters are unwilling to elect female candidates. It's not because women can't raise money. It's because women are still systematically less likely than men to run for office," said Jennifer Lawless, a professor at American University. "They are less likely to be recruited, they're less likely to think they are qualified and, ultimately, they're less likely to throw their hats into the ring."

Republicans trail Democrats when it comes to electing women. Democrats have elected three times as many women to the House compared to Republicans and four times as many women to the Senate.

New York Rep. Steve Israel, who heads the House Democrats' campaign arm, said that if Republicans want to attract more female candidates, they should rethink some of their policies.

"It's very hard for them to recruit women because they are at war with women," he said. "Every week on the floor of the House of Representatives, they're trying to restrict a women's right to choose, they're voting against pay equity."

In response, Ellmers said, "It's absolutely ridiculous. I am a woman. Why would I declare war on myself? I support women across this country and I support the different views that women have."

Still, those who study the issue see plenty of potential and room for improvement for both parties.

"There are millions and millions of women out there, so I don't think, even if it's more difficult, that if the parties were serious, they would not be able to achieve success," Lawless said.

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