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A group of veteran political operatives has launched a new organization to help recruit and support Republican women seeking to run for governor in 2022 and beyond, CNN has exclusively learned.
The group, called Right Direction Women, has set its sights on elevating GOP women to governor’s mansions across the country at a time when only three are currently occupied by Republican women: Kay Ivey of Alabama, Kim Reynolds of Iowa and Kristi Noem of South Dakota.
Chaired by former New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who broke barriers as the first Hispanic female governor in US history, the organization boasts a leadership roster of women who have prior experience recruiting and advising female GOP officeholders. Its national co-chairs, Annie Dickerson and Marie Sanderson, have been involved in candidate recruitment previously – Dickerson as founder of the Winning for Women Action Fund, which has worked to elect Republican women to federal office since the 2018 cycle, and Sanderson as onetime policy director of the Republican Governors Association.
“2022 holds a crucial opportunity for Republicans to not only flip the House and Senate, but also elect conservative women as chief executive of their states,” Sanderson said in a statement. “The women we are looking to support are talented and credentialed, and Right Direction Women is excited to get involved in these critically important campaigns.”
People familiar with the effort said the group will jump right into the 2022 cycle with two upcoming endorsements in Wisconsin and Arkansas, where former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Sanders are competing in their respective primaries. One of the people familiar with the group said it will evaluate candidates on a case-by-case basis and could endorse both moderate Republican women and ultra-conservative women who have embraced former President Donald Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election.
“At the end of the day, we are looking for candidates with leadership abilities, common-sense policies and positions. As has always been the case, there are districts and states where Trump has always been more popular than others,” said a person involved with efforts to elect Republican women, who requested anonymity because they are not directly affiliated with Right Direction Women.
In a statement to CNN, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley commended the group’s desire to “take on the good ole boys’ club across the country.” Haley does not have a formal role with the group.
“I’ve personally seen the power of a great team, and know we must do more to support strong women leaders in their races for governor,” Martinez added in a statement. “Right Direction Women will quickly become a key player in continuing to break glass ceilings for conservative women across the country and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
At a time when Republicans are looking to reverse the party’s weak appeal for college-educated suburban women, the group hopes its efforts to recruit female candidates at the statewide level will work against that trend by presenting female voters with candidates who are more relatable and who face many of the same challenges and decisions that are front and center in these voters’ minds – especially when it comes to education.
“Women who are running for office and have school-age kids, it gives them a unique way to relate to voters,” said the person involved with efforts to elect Republican women.
The emergence of Right Direction Women illustrates a directional shift for the Republican Party, whose leaders have often condemned identity politics, as it looks to diversify and broaden its appeal ahead of this fall’s midterm contests. At a House GOP retreat last month, for example, Republicans gathered in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, to discuss a policy plan called “Commitment to America” that they have developed with the goal of broadening the party’s appeal beyond its predominantly White male base.
“In a lot of ways, what we identified was a vacuum in the Republican ecosystem where electing women just wasn’t a priority and for many cycles it was a problem identified, but not a problem solved,” said one of the people familiar with the new group.
Still, past efforts by Republicans to add more women to the party’s ranks haven’t always brought positive returns. Two freshman members of the House GOP caucus – Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado – who were elected last cycle in GOP districts – have repeatedly stirred controversy for their offensive comments about minorities and bitter attacks on fellow lawmakers.