“We’re putting our stake in the ground” at the Iowa straw poll, says Jennifer DeJournett, president of Voices of Conservative Women, the Minnesota-based political action committee poised to become an influential PAC nationwide.
Fresh off sponsorship of the first Women’s Straw Poll won by Rep. Michele Bachmann last weekend in St. Louis, Voices is headed to Ames with a head of steam. It will sponsor a breakfast which all straw-poll candidates but Tim Pawlenty will attend and a reception tent with a prime location on the Iowa straw-poll grounds. After St. Louis, the group carries into Iowa an even stronger conviction that women voters aren’t just a coalition, they are key to winning elections.
“What I learned in St. Louis is that women from all across the country agreed with Voices that the candidate needs to engage women more,” DeJournett said. She quoted from the comments that the participants offered along with their vote: “Don’t assume you have my vote. Let me hear your real thoughts even if you think I might not like it. Let me know you, not your political self. We want our leaders to be in the trenches with us, not a general on a hill.”
DeJournett speculated that Bachmann’s tell-it-like-it-is approach was critical in her victory among these conservative women voters.
Bachmann’s hard-right tack on the economy also didn’t hurt. Of the 139 women from all parts of the country who cast straw-poll ballots, 112 supported the “cut, cap, and balance” plan under discussion in Washington and 99 said that reducing government spending and balancing the budget was the important issue of the day.
DeJournett describes reading those opinions as a moment of revelation. “I thought: We are not alone. There are more of us out there. Someone else from another part of the country gets this.”
Voices wants Republican presidential contenders in Iowa to get it as well. DeJournett says Voices is the first women’s organization in its own right to have a place in the Iowa straw-poll events.
Also in Ames, the group will launch Voices 2.0, a nationwide PAC supporting women candidates who run on a platform of fiscal conservatism. To start, Voices is working with PURSE-Iowa, a like-minded grass roots organization, to help the group broaden its recruiting and fund-raising capacity. Voices has made a campaign contribution to Lynn Fitch, running in a GOP primary to be the state treasurer of Mississippi.
“Every time I turn around there’s women across the country who have asked for our help,” DeJournett says. “It’s exciting but it’s heart-breaking because if you are a common-sense, fiscally conservative woman, we are the only organization.”
Because Voices supports conservative, mainly Republican, women candidates based only on pocketbook issues, its advocacy is unique. DeJournett acknowledges that the group has been pressured to enter the arena of social issues, but “we talk only about money and economics. I am almost a zealot on this.”
Equally important to Voices of Conservative Women is moving candidates and their campaigns to recognize the importance of women’s votes. The group hopes to make that point obvious in Iowa. DeJournett describes an encounter with one of the presidential campaigns where she said she was told, “We’ve got this great young woman, she’s in charge of the women’s vote.”
“But why isn’t she in the war room [of the campaign]?” DeJournett wonders.
Women outvote men in every election, she says. “We shouldn’t be confined to the back room with a pink button.”