A political action committee that backs female Republican candidates is taking the highly unusual step of getting involved in a GOP primary and backing Sara Hart Weir in the 3rd Congressional District.
The Value in Electing Women political action committee — also known as VIEW PAC — is backing Weir over former Kansas Republican Party Chairwoman Amanda Adkins and former Roeland Park Mayor Adrienne Foster in next year’s primary.
The decision by VIEW PAC to enter the race is seen as extraordinary because the primary is still months away and it is taking sides against two other female candidates seeking the nomination to face Democratic incumbent Sharice Davids.
It also potentially opens the door to financial support from other groups that support female Republican candidates, such as Winning for Women and Susan B. Anthony List.
“It’s highly significant,” said Rosalyn Cooperman, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
“What is unusual about this move is that it came so early and it came in a race with other Republican women. That to me is the most noteworthy thing,” said Cooperman, who studies the relationship between political parties, PACs and female candidates.
Generally, PACs supporting Republican women have tended to shy away from primaries, supporting female incumbents who are likely to be returned to Congress, she said. They have rarely supported challengers or candidates for open seats.
“Traditionally, conservative women’s PACs have sat on their hands and waited for the woman to get through the primary,” she said.
However, those groups are becoming increasingly engaged as the number of Republican women in Congress has plummeted.
“They’re doing it more and more now,” said Betsy Fischer Martin, executive director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University and former producer of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Since the midterms, they really came to the realization that the party was not reflective of the population.”
There are now 13 Republican women in Congress, compared to 89 Democrats. There are as many Republican women in Congress now as there were from 1989 to 1991. The record is 25, set in 2006..
Groups like Winning for Women and Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s E-PAC are already endorsing female candidates in primaries.
VIEW PAC is not only wading into a field of Republican challengers, it’s also taking on a Democratic congresswoman in a district that leans in the incumbent’s favor.
Julie Conway, the PAC’s executive director, said Weir gives the Republicans the best chance to beat the incumbent.
“Sara represents a new generation of exciting, conservative GOP leaders who will bring an outsider perspective to the U.S. House,” Conway said in a statement.
“As a CEO who knows what it means to balance budgets and a disability advocate who can lean-in on healthcare reform, Sara has a unique and unrivaled skill set which sets her apart in this Congressional race,” Conway said.
Adkins’ campaign said in a statement that she has focused on building women Republican leaders, including graduates of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Excellence in Public Service Series that she cofounded.
Her campaign also cited support from former state House candidate Chiquita Coggs, who was executive director of the state cosmetology board when Sam Brownback was governor.
“Amanda is pleased to have so many of these Kansas women leaders…working for her campaign as they have built their lives and raised their children in the state.”
Foster’s campaign also issued a statement: “I’m running to offer Republican primary voters bold and positive conservative solutions, not warmed over Democratic ideas.”
What will prove intriguing is how VIEW PAC’s endorsement might play with other groups that back Republican women, Cooperman said.
“In this case, VIEW PAC struck first,” she said. “What does that mean for other Republican women PACs? Does that mean other groups are going to follow suit, or are they going to back somebody else?”
While VIEW PAC raised about $2 million during the last election cycle, it typically pulls in between $300,000 and $500,000 per cycle.
By comparison, Susan. B. Anthony List, which contributes to male and female pro-life candidates, raised $733,000 in the last cycle. It has generally brought in between $325,000 and about $460,000 during the last several election cycles.
Winning for Women, which aims to elect 20 Republican women to the House in 2020, was started in 2017 as a counterweight to Emily’s List on the Democratic side.
It raised about $500,000 in the last cycle. It already endorsed 13 House candidates, none of which were in Kansas.
Stefanik’s E-PAC has raised about $343,000 this cycle and recently endorsed 11 candidates, but none in Kansas.
None of those groups can dominate a primary like Emily’s List, Cooperman said.
Its powerful ability to raise money can influence Democratic races, like it did in Kansas last year when Davids and Gov. Laura Kelly emerged from crowded fields to not only win their primaries but win the general election, as well.
“They have a history of giving in primaries and contested primaries and often to basically say to the typical Democratic establishment guy candidate, ‘Too bad. We like this person,'” she said.
Cooperman’s research shows Emily’s List raised more than $60 million last year, compared to three conservative women’s PACs that raised more than $1 million combined for Republican female candidates. Her research did not include VIEW PAC.
“Emily’s List spends tens of millions of dollars on congressional races. That doesn’t even count the super PAC that they have for independent expenditures, which is million and tens of millions of dollars on top of that,” she said.
“There’s nothing on the Republican side that even competes with that.”