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Red State Returns Spotlight To Women, Backbone Of Texas GOP

Apr 9, 2014
Originally published on April 9, 2014 4:48 pm

Republican women have always played an important role in Texas politics, but this year, the GOP finds itself on the defensive in the campaign for women's votes. As KUT's Ben Phillpott reports, there's a new group to help address the issue: Red State Women.

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Pocketbook issues are at the heart of the Democrats' campaign to draw women, especially single women, to the polls this fall. The unanimous Republican vote in the Senate today to block a pay equity bill is now talking point number one for Democrats. But Republicans are pushing back and, in many parts of the country, women are leading the way.

Ben Philpott, of member station KUT in Austin, has this story about how the fight is playing out in Texas.

BEN PHILPOTT, BYLINE: Republican women have been the backbone of the Texas GOP for decades, from get-out-the-vote efforts to lobbying on legislation. With the face of that group coming in the form of a red coat wearing brigade called the Texas Federation of Republican Women.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: The Redcoats are coming. Let me tell you are they coming.

PHILPOTT: The group has multiple videos directing those troops to show up at different events where their uniforms make them easy to see, letting politicians know they're being watched.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: The Texas Federation of Republican Women stand united.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Focus on the outcome. Imagine our impact.


PHILPOTT: The group was established in 1955 and, with 10,000 members and 161 local clubs today, their endorsement is coveted by Republican politicians. But it's 2014 and Republicans needed something new.

CARI CHRISTMAN: Republican women are extremely organized in this state, but we need an avenue to speak collectively and some type of platform that gives us the opportunity for our voice to be heard, as well.

PHILPOTT: That's Cari Christman. She's the executive director of Red State Women. It's a new political action committee with the goal of being a voice for women and the state GOP.

The effort kicked off with a profile of Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick. She's focused on the group's effort to modernize.

CHRISTIAN CRADDIC: But obviously I think young women are an important piece of this. And social media is a new way, obviously in politics, that we just didn't even have five years ago.

PHILPOTT: And that's all well and good. But there's a larger reason why decades of Republican women activism isn't enough for the 2014 election. There aren't any GOP women running for statewide office this fall. And Texas Democrats have hit the campaign trail talking about Republican Governor Rick Perry's veto of a bill that would have made it easier for a woman to sue over pay inequality, and new abortion restrictions that have closed almost all of the state's clinics.

STATE SENATOR WENDY DAVIS: We know that the partisan leadership in charge does not respect the rights of all Texans to make critical and very personal decisions about their own lives and their own bodies.


PHILPOTT: That's State Senator Wendy Davis. She and another female state senator are running for governor and lieutenant governor respectively. Their campaigns aren't dominated by women's issues but it's certainly a theme, a theme now being countered by Red State Women and executive director Christman.

CHRISTMAN: I believe Republican women want that voice. We are tired of Democrats standing up and telling us what they think women believe in or what their values are in Texas.

PHILPOTT: Providing a female perspective is the kind of messenger diversity the Republican National Committee has been pushing since the release of its 2012 presidential election post mortem. But, at least initially, Red State Women have stumbled in their rebuttals to the veto of the equal pay lawsuit bill. Here's Christman being interviewed on the ABC affiliate in Dallas.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What's the solution then, do you think, for equal pay then, Cari?

CHRISTMAN: Well, if you look at it, women are extremely busy. We lead busy lives, whether working professionally, whether we're working from home and times are extremely busy. It's just that it's a busy cycle for women and we've got a lot to juggle and so...

PHILPOTT: And until that answer gets better, Red State women will be busy deflecting Democratic attacks instead of promoting their own message of what it means to be a Republican. For NPR News, I'm Ben Philpott in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.