Primary elections taking place across the country beginning in May might seem like business as usual. But I've sifted through the coverage and found five Republican women to watch this campaign season. This diverse list of political dark horses gives me some hope about the future of women in the Republican Party, especially if they can pull out some victories come Election Day.
Read on for my picks...
Republican badges, Image Credit: Shutterstock
KAREN HANDEL, Georgia, U.S. Senate
Karen Handel, Georgia's first Republican secretary of state, shows signs of life with support from former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin and RedState's Erick Erickson, and much-needed funding from the American Future Fund. If her name sounds vaguely familiar, she's the Susan G. Komen executive who sat at the center of the Planned Parenthood funding controversy a few years back. Yowza.
BACKGROUND: Besides her background above, Karen also headed the Fulton County Board of Commissioners; in 2010, she lost the runoff for the GOP nomination for Georgia governor. She also served as deputy chief of staff to Vice-President Dan Quayle's wife, Marilyn, where she worked to promote breast cancer awareness and research. Despite her serious business chops, Karen never completed a college degree—a fact which her opponent decided to knock her for, but which seems to have blown up in his face.
THE RACE: Weekend polling shows Karen in a dead heat with former Reebok CEO David Perdue (a former race frontrunner due to his early TV ads) in a packed GOP field that includes Rep. Jack Kingston, Rep. Phil Gingrey, and Rep. Paul Broun. If the wrong Republican advances, it would leave the seat vulnerable come the general election, when the candidate will face off against the presumptive Democratic nominee, Michelle Nunn—a moderate with nonprofit executive experience.
PLATFORM: Karen put forward a four-step plan for economic opportunity, including a push for zero-based budgeting and killing pork spending.
MARILINDA GARCIA, New Hampshire, 2nd Congressional District
Marilinda Garcia, or Mari, joined the New Hampshire state Legislature eight years ago. She stepped into the congressional race against Rep. Annie Kuster, prompting the now infamous tweet "Bill O'Brien + Kim Kardashian = Marilinda Garcia" by Manchester Democrat state Rep. Peter Sullivan.
BACKGROUND: Mari has packed a lot of living into her 31 years. Her education includes degrees from Tufts University, the New England Conservatory of Music, and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she received a Master of Public Policy degree and was the recipient of a full tuition Public Service Fellowship. She's a dedicated community servant who was first elected to the state legislature at just 23 years old.
THE RACE: The conservative Latina is squaring off against another Republican, Gary Lambert, a former Marine and small businessman. Polling shows that Garcia's favored to beat Kuster if she makes the runoff, despite Lambert having more cash on hand. In fact, despite that recent poll, race watcher James Pindell is unsure of her candidacy, given her weak April quarterly filing of $69,000 with $44,000 cash on hand.
PLATFORM: Marilinda's championing affordable healthcare choices, environmental stewardship, and ending deficit spending.
ERIKA HAROLD, Illinois, 13th Congressional District
March 8, 2014 - National Harbor, District of Columbia, USA - Erika Harold, Miss America, 2003 speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Image Credit: Ron Sachs/DPA/ZUMAPRESS.com
Erika Harold, an Urbana lawyer, is of African American and American Indian ancestry. Erika served on President George W. Bush's re-election campaign's national steering committee. She was a 2004 Republican National Convention delegate and a featured speaker that year—and she spoke again recently, at CPAC.
BACKGROUND: The 2003 Miss America snapped up her undergrad degree in political science from the University of Illinois; later, she used her pageant scholarship proceeds to put herself through Harvard Law School, where she fed her interest in the Constitution.
THE RACE: She's facing serious opposition, mainly from her own party. Despite the Republican Party chest-thumping over Mia Love making history as the presumptive first black GOP congresswoman, last summer Montgomery County GOP Chairman Jim Allen called Harold a "streetwalker" and "lovechild of the DNC". Ultimately, the Republican establishment fear she could split the Republican vote enough to threaten freshman Rep. Rodney Davis from winning re-election. They have good reason to worry: She's beloved. Erika secured the endorsement from the Chicago Tribune writing "Harold is saying things that need to said, and Davis—the incumbent—isn't. Harold is endorsed."
PLATFORM: Her passionate causes include anti-bullying efforts, human rights in the prison system, and fighting agriculture over-regulation.
ELISE STEFANIK, New York, 21st Congressional District
Elise Stefanik broke through the establishment crust in this toss-up race. The Essex County native received a solid endorsement from an impressive 87 percent of the North County Republican committee chairs despite a packed GOP primary field of male challengers, most of whom squawked over her endorsement. Simma down now, guys.
BACKGROUND: The Harvard grad brings more political experience to the table than many twice her age: She was the director of vice-presidential debate prep to Paul Ryan in 2012, and she served in the West Wing from 2006-2009, first as part of President Bush's domestic policy council staff, then in the chief of staff's office. Elise works at her family's company, Premium Plywood Products, Inc., which was founded more than 20 years ago.
THE RACE: The district seat is open. Incumbent Democrat Rep. Bill Owens announced he would not seek re-election in the district. Democrats are backing filmmaker Aaron Woolf. A recent Public Opinion Strategies poll shows Republicans would vote for a yet-undeclared candidate Matt Doheny over Stefanik (49 percent to 13 percent). It's an unfortunate revelation, given Doheny's (ahem) reputation.
PLATFORM: Elise supports job creation as a number-one priority; protecting Fort Drum and advocating for veterans and military families; and working to provide upstate farmers with a more open and stable trade market.
DR. MONICA WEHBY, Oregon, U.S. Senate
Image Credit: Monicafororegon.com
Dr. Monica Wehby might have put out the most talked-about campaign ad in recent memory. Called "Trust", it features one of her former patients, whose baby was born with a spinal disorder. The Mitt Romney-endorsed Senate candidate is the only woman on my list who doesn't have political experience under her belt. But there's good reason why her candidacy is getting the GOP excited.
BACKGROUND: Dr. Wehby is the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Randall Children's Hospital in Portland. She's also the past president of the Oregon Medical Association, where she led the 2004 TORT reform campaign and she actively spoke out against the Affordable Care Act, though that talking point's been altered. The daughter of a delivery truck driver and a registered nurse, she graduated from the University of Notre Dame and Baylor College of Medicine, then completed UCLA's neurosurgery program and trained in pediatric neurosurgery at the University of Utah Medical Center.
THE RACE: Dr. Wehby might do well, if she makes the general election. A recent GOP poll shows her within striking distance of Oregon Democratic senator Jeff Merkley. But another Republican poll showed that Jason Conger was the stronger candidate against Merkley, leading the candidates to trade jabs to prove who is the "real" Republican.
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