TAMPA--I was already through the doors and into the lobby of the Hyatt yesterday afternoon before it clicked, and I went back out and asked the woman at the curb if she was Martha Zoller, congressional candidate from Georgia. She was (which tells you something about my obsession with this topic), and she was nice enough to speak me for a few minutes, even though her ride was just pulling up.
Zoller recently lost her primary runoff, in an open seat which will probably go to the Republican nominee. It is one of many, many opportunities the GOP has had to improve on its unbelievably dismal 10% rate of women in its congressional caucus.
"I had the old boy network against me," Zoller told me. She blames that culture, and of course the liberal media, for the dearth of women elected in the party, which she finds disappointing. "I do think it's changing," she says, advising that women "can't just run one time and give up."
Zoller is a talk-radio, Tea Party favored conservative with high-profile endorsements -- the type that has done very well against establishment-backed candidates in GOP primaries. She forced the runoff, but couldn't get the win.
Inside the Hyatt, I discovered that Maggie's List had a booth set up outside the forum I was heading to. It's a fairly new group aiming to get Republican women elected; they are backing targeted candidates including Linda Lingle, Deb Fischer, Mia Love, and Nan Hayworth. I had a great long chat with its executive director, Missy Shorey, whose energy, enthusiasm, and optimism reminded me a lot of the more left-leaning youngish women you find in similar positions at Emerge Mass, or the Barbara Lee Foundation, or EMILY's List.
Then I finally went in to the American Action Forum thing, and watched seven white, middle-aged males talk about the economy.
American Action Forum and its sister American Action Network is probably second only to Karl Rove's Crossroads in how much money it will spend to get Republicans elected; it also intends to influence policies. Its top people are pretty much all men.
That was yesterday. Today I dropped in on an "Unconventional Women" event, sponsored by Cambridge's own Ambassador Swanee Hunt and co-chaired by Massachusetts's own Kerry Healey. Attendance was disappointing, and was dominated by women from Massachusetts. Christine O'Donnell was one of the speakers.
One big problem I have with these sorts of efforts, as well-meaning as they are, is that they are mostly set up as non-profits, which makes them nervous about seeming partisan, which means they won't speak the plain truth,as I have documented here in obsessive detail: it's not a political problem, it's a Republican Party problem. (Well, to be accurate it's a minor and shrinking Democratic Party problem, and a huge, gaping, God-awful, and growing Republican Party problem.)
So there was Swanee Hunt -- a woman who surely knows better -- standing up there lamenting that in 2010 the number of women in Congress decreased for the first time in forever, and we need to convene panels and have grave discussions to determine why that happened. We know exactly why that happened: Republicans gained a whole bunch of seats. And since Republicans elect women just 10% of the time -- less than half the rate of Democrats -- Republican gains mean declines in women.
I am typing this post up while watching the early evening Tuesday program of the Republican National Convention. I'm seeing a whole bunch of women come to the stage and speak. (The obviousness of the gender and racial preferential treatment, which enrages conservatives in almost any other context, is quietly accepted at the RNC.)
The truth, though, is that the RNC can't get women elected, and is doing absolutely nothing to address that.
And, as I wrote recently, if any other major public organization hired and promoted women only 10% of the time, there would be a hue and cry about it.