GOP Aims To Put Women In Office

The National Republican Party has launched Project Grow, an initiative to recruit, mentor and elect more female Republicans in every level of office. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee joins guest host Susan Stamburg to talk about the new project.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, HOST:

The GOP has tried to bolster the number of women on Capitol Hill, as well. This week, the National Republican Committee launched Project Grow. It's aimed at recruiting, mentoring, and electing more Republican women into office - federal, state and local. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee's 7th District, joins us from City Hall in Fairview, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville.

Welcome to you and thanks so much for joining us.

REPRESENTATIVE MARSHA BLACKBURN: Oh, I'm delighted to be with you. Thank you.

STAMBERG: There are currently 78 women in the House of Representatives, 19 of them are Republican. But the total voting membership of the House is 435. So that's a huge gender gap to close.

(LAUGHTER)

BLACKBURN: You're correct. It is an enormous gender gap and sometimes I'll look at those numbers, Susan, and I think my, my, my. We do have a long way to travel.

STAMBERG: Yeah. And only four Republican women senators right now, so that makes the road even longer, huh?

BLACKBURN: It does make the road long. And, you know, so many of us are looking at this and saying it's time for women to have the opportunities, step forward and lead.

STAMBERG: I wonder, before you pursue that a bit, what the picture is nationwide, in state, local offices.

BLACKBURN: That's one of the things that we have looked at, is working from the ground up at local, state, and federal elective offices. Right now, I am in the City Hall in Fairview, Tennessee, as you said, and they have a fabulous female mayor who is doing tremendous things - the collaborative skills that women bring to elective office is such a positive.

STAMBERG: In the last election, your party - the GOP - didn't do very well among women, as well as you all had hoped. There were exit polls that found 55 percent of women voted for President Obama. So what's your thinking? By increasing the number of women in office that it's going to help the party, the Republicans appeal to women voters?

BLACKBURN: Well, there's a couple of things there. Number one, I think that our message is right. Women are very concerned about jobs and the economy. They're concerned about health care. They're concerned about energy cost. And they're concerned about the next generation. I have to tell you though, I think, by and large, our party has done a very poor job at communicating that, and at reaching out and making women feel welcomed into the party by offering them the opportunity to lead on various issues.

STAMBERG: But, you know, the Democrats say that Republicans are deaf to the real tough issues: abortion, rape, equal pay. So how do you, first of all, respond to that and then expect you're going to close the gender gap with all these matters on the table?

BLACKBURN: When you look at some of the social issues, I think there, again, that the way that message has been presented is sometimes off-kilter. You can look at what happened with the late-term abortion bill, Susan, 80 percent of the American public agrees with us on that. Over 60 percent of all women agree with that. Making certain that the messenger is a female is something that is going to help that.

STAMBERG: Thank you very much. Marsha Blackburn is U.S. congresswoman for Tennessee's 7th District.

Ms. Blackburn, thanks so much for your time today.

BLACKBURN: So good to be with you. Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STAMBERG: You're listening to NPR News.

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