There are rumblings in the Republican Party that it may be time for a conservative woman to run for governor.
It’s no coincidence that the discussions are taking place as Republicans cast about to redefine their image after losses in the 2012 elections.
Among those speculating about the possibility of a Republican woman at the top of the ticket is Jennifer DeJournett, director of Voices for Conservative Women. It’s a real possibility, she says, because “there will be a primary. So the question is: What would it take to get someone through a primary?”
Voices for Conservative Women has been successfully fielding conservative female candidates for legislative and local offices but has not been involved in a gubernatorial race. The governor’s office has eluded women from both parties in Minnesota, although women have held other statewide posts, including auditor, attorney general and secretary of state.
The closest a woman has come to becoming governor was in the DFL primary season in 2010. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, then speaker of the Minnesota House, lost the primary by 1 percentage point to Mark Dayton, who went on to defeat Republican Tom Emmer and independent Tom Horner.
Kelliher’s strong showing came in large part because of support from Women Winning, a 30-year-old bipartisan organization that endorses pro-choice women running for office.
Lauren Beecham, executive director of Women Winning, says the group’s strong suit is building coalitions, which she says comes naturally to a female candidate. “You’re dealing with someone who comes with an extensive network,” she says. “We help them piece this together. The way you win is by being very involved with others.”
DeJournett envies the network that Women Winning has created. “When Women Winning went all in for Margaret, they really felt like they were backing a winner,” she says. “Why wouldn’t Republican women do the same [with a candidate for governor]?”
If such a group gets formally organized with the goal of finding and then promoting a woman for governor, DeJournett would certainly play a major role. Other notable conservative women who would likely join the effort include former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, state Sen. Julianne Ortman, state GOP Deputy Chair Party Kelly Fenton and former legislator Laura Brod, who voiced interest in running for governor in 2009 and has left open the possibility of making a future run.
Developing a pipeline of candidates is key to electing women, says Beecham, who adds that’s what Women Winning does best. “We look for opportunities in identifying strong community leaders who are passionate about prioritizing women and their families, and then prepare women for statewide office,” she says. “When women run for office, women win. But the problem is that women aren’t running at the same rate as men.”
No announced candidates
That rate is even lower in the Republican field. Not only is there no announced Republican woman running for governor, the rumor mill has churned out only male possibilities, including state Sen. David Hann, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and Emmer.
That’s why Republicans will need to create a group with the force, commitment, and tentacles of liberal women’s groups. Like Women Winning, this organization must reassure a candidate that if she undertakes the journey to run for the state’s highest office, she will have other women behind her.
“I think women want to know if they are going to take a leap, there will be a support group,” says DeJournett, who has heard the concerns of legislative and local candidates. “‘Am I qualified? What’s going to happen to my business? Can my family handle this? Can I make a successful argument to the voter?’ Women want to figure that out before they start a campaign.”
Although there is no formal organization – yet – to draft a Republican woman for governor, there is a growing recognition that 2014 would be the right time to make such a launch. Facing a relatively popular incumbent governor, Republicans will need to move beyond the usual suspects. And given the incumbencies of Dayton and 2014’s other big DFL name, Al Franken, Republicans would stand alone with a major female candidate.
As Republicans look for a game-changing political strategy, a woman at the top of ticket guarantees voters would take a second look at the party and its message.