As Democrats head into what is expected to be a tough election year for them, the party says it has a solid lead over Republicans in one respect -- its number of women candidates.
Seeking to ding the GOP on the issue, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is pointing to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC)'s "Young Guns" program, which provides support for Republicans challenging Democratic incumbents or running for open seats. There are more than 100 candidates in the program, and eight of them are women.
The DCCC's comparable "Red to Blue" program includes 13 candidates, three of which are women. DCCC spokesperson Ryan Rudominer also highlighted the fact that Democrats have already elected a number of women into office. There are currently 78 female representatives in the House, and 61 are Democrats, according to the Office of History and Preservation for the House.
"We've elected so many strong female members that were in traditionally Republican districts," Rudominer said. "They're going to face tough re-elections -- but there's 102 candidates in the NRCC Young Guns program, and eight of those are women. I think that it speaks volumes about Republicans' priorities."
The NRCC counters that, in fact, there are more than 60 women running for Congress as Republicans this year. That list, however, includes some candidates that seem unlikely to appear on a ballot against Democrats, such as Feda Kidd Morton, a former member of the Virginia GOP. Morton is running against at least six other Republicans for Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello's vulnerable seat in the fifth district of Virginia. The Republicans will face off in a June 8 primary, and fundraising and polling figures suggest state Sen. Robert Hurt is the clear frontrunner.
Democrats contend their priorities are more in line with the priorities of female voters. They point to President Obama's health care reform package, which prohibits health insurance companies from discriminating against women. The party also touts theof the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which makes it easier for workers to sue after discovering what they believe to be pay discrimination.
"When it comes to fighting for women, we're second to none," Rudominer said.
The NRCC counters that women have become some of their best spokespersons for explaining why the party stands against the president's agenda. Since women traditionally track household expenses, they can explain how the Democrats' agenda will hit voters' pocketbooks, said NRCC spokesperson Joanna Burgos.
"They have a credibility factor that the voters are seeing," she said.
Burgos added that House Republican leadership is making a concerted effort to bring in a more diverse freshmen class this year.
Still, the disproportionate number of male versus female candidates remains evident in both parties.
"There is much room for improvement in both parties for recruiting women candidates," said Kathy Groob, a Kentucky businesswoman who publishes ElectWomen Magazine, and a former Democratic candidate for the state Senate. While the Democratic Party embraces female candidates, she said, it has relied on outside organizations dedicated to electing women, like Emily's List, to provide the training and much of the support.
"Often out in the states you will find entrenched political party groups who continue to favor 'establishment' candidates and there are not many women in that category," Groob added.
Some activists are unhappy the DCCC is not supporting Hawaii state Senate president Colleen Hanabusa in anto replace outgoing Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie. Hanabusa will be on the May ballot with another Democrat, former Rep. Ed Case, as well as the GOP candidate, Honolulu city councilman Charles Djou. The DCCC for now is focusing on making the case against Djou.
Rudominer acknowledged there is plenty of room for more female candidates in the Democratic party.
Democrats are doing "a whole lot better than Republicans," he said, "but we're still not satisfied."