A second round in North Carolina was widely seen as a test of the GOP's ability to elect more women in Trump's time – and the Republicans failed.
Despite the presence of an impressive war chest and the support of every Republican woman in the House – there are only 13 years left – Dr. Joan Perry has been criticized by her colleague doctor Greg Murphy for seizing the party's candidacy special election of the House.
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Perry, however, ran into powerful GOP forces, with the conservative allies of President Donald Trump's House, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio, who supported Murphy. And Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, recorded automated calls on behalf of Murphy.
This has made it even more painful to see the almost 20-point defeat of Republican women in the House, who are desperate to rebuild their ranks and frustrated by the fact that some of their male colleagues are working against them. And with Trump topping the list next year, the pressure to elect more women and attract more voters to the party will only intensify.
"People will have to make it a priority," said Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who is responsible for strengthening women's candidacies. "If they think it's important to have more women at the conference, people will have to step up their efforts and make those investments."
"I would like other colleagues to support Joan Perry," she added.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Who did not participate in the race, said it was encouraging that Perry had received as many approvals as she, knowing it was a second round for a special election. Eight male GOP legislators supported Perry's campaign.
"I think people will have to do more, yes," McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday. "But … a lot of people do not normally participate in primaries. It was a very telling case that she got support from so many people. "
Some Republicans have argued that the results of a single special election should not be overemphasized, but Tuesday's race is now the second case of this year in which a GOP candidate has failed to emerge victorious of a primary.
At another congressional special election in North Carolina earlier this year, one of the main candidates, Leigh Brown, was defeated by the state senator who sponsored the "project" "Toilet Law" controversial North Carolina in 2016.
The consecutive primary losses have raised questions about the GOP grassroots willingness to promote women and the strategies that party leaders should deploy beyond just investing in races.
Winning for Women, one of the outside groups that took an active part in the race, is now looking to meet GOP leaders to discuss the way forward for the 2020 election cycle.
"I'm very disappointed, I still want people to play more in the primaries," said Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), Who sought to help the GOP elect more women. "But you can not not take this stuff personally. "
Tuesday's confrontation in a solid red district had become a proxy war between Washington Republicans, revealing a wider gender gap at the GOP conference. The House Republicans represented a united front in favor of Perry and outside groups dedicated to the election of candidates paid more than a million dollars into the race.
But conservative extremists have rallied around Murphy, who is expected to join the Freedom caucus of the House when he is elected. Meadows and Jordan, leaders of the conservative group and two of Trump's top allies on Capitol Hill, put their weight behind Murphy. The Freedom Caucus election arm spent $ 236,000 on advertisements opposing Perry and presenting Murphy as the candidate against the establishment ready to fight "gators in the swamp".
Perry's supporters felt it was an unfair qualification, given his opposition to the right to abortion and the support of a wall at the border, even though Perry was not promising to join the caucus of freedom if he were elected.
"I'm pretty confident that Joan Perry was actually the most conservative candidate," Stefanik said. "And I was surprised at the importance the freedom caucus attached to this race."
Meadows pointed out in an interview that the Freedom Caucus had sponsored a number of candidates, including Yvette Herrell of New Mexico, the group's first rookie in the 2020 round. He also dismissed the idea that the race was based on gender.
"Ms. Stefanik and I have never had a conversation about potential Republican candidates in North Carolina," said Meadows. "It is notorious that the Freedom Caucus is actively recruiting and supporting candidates who represent the best candidates in North Carolina. forgotten man and woman. "
"Let's hope we can find a candidate who meets the selection criteria of the House Freedom Fund and those of the PAC," he added.
Susan Brooks, Indiana representative, in charge of the GOP campaign group's recruitment efforts, said it was not the support of the Freedom Caucus that was affecting the race. She argued that Murphy enjoyed greater profile in the district as a representative at the North Carolina General Assembly.
But Brooks acknowledged that it would be difficult for women as first candidates to break through without already having a political stance.
"This is part of a bigger problem," said Brooks, who is retiring, even as she tries to recruit more women to run for office. "We have to do better as a party at the local level."
Then there is another problem that Republicans are much less willing to tackle: Trump.
Suburban voters fled the GOP midway through 2018, with support for Trump in free fall. At the same time, a handful of Republican women have either lost their candidacy for re-election or retired. It was particularly difficult for women parliamentarians GOP to see the number of women Democrats reach a record in the House.
After losing the White House in 2012, the GOP autopsy report concluded that the party needed to improve its position with women and minorities. But Republicans in the House have not yet practiced autopsy at the mid-point in 2018, and it seems unlikely that they will do it.
Some clues suggest that Trump still faces a significant gender gap: the latest poll POLITICO / Morning Consult, conducted at the end of last month, revealed that 57% of voters would vote "definitely" or "probably" against Trump in 2020.
"We have to work very hard as Republicans to convince more women to run for office, but also to convince more women to vote for us," said Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third Republican in the House. "Attracting female voters is crucial."
Cheney plans to run for a Senate seat in Wyoming, which would further reduce the number of women in the GOP.
Laura Barrón-López contributed to this report.