More than 200 Republican women — and their admirers — gathered to talk politics on July 29 at the Glenmoor Country Club in Cherry Hills Village at a fundraiser sponsored by the Colorado group Political Organization of Republican Women.
Even though the event’s headliner, former White House press secretary and Fox News contributor Dana Perino, was unable to make it in person — airline delays limited her to a phone call to the group — a bevy of current and former lawmakers, officials and party officers managed to celebrate the role of women in the GOP and challenged each other to step it up as next year’s election approaches.
“This certainly isn’t how I expected to meet you tonight,” Perino cracked over a speaker phone, noting that she sat in a plane on the tarmac at Dulles International Airport for nearly six hours and then, to top things off, the airline lost her luggage when GOP officials tried to arrange a charter flight.
But she didn’t let her travel woes get in the way of her message: “I think that this fight really comes down to what we do in 2012, not only on the presidential level, but also in the House and Senate races, as well as all the very important local official and state races, because that’s a training ground for everyone who will step up.”
It was a message delivered by several speakers at the fundraiser. Perino added a challenge to the women listening, noting that ranks of women in Congress have dropped.
“Increasingly, I am concerned about the lack of women who are running,” she said. “Even though we had more women who were running for higher office, we took a step back in 2010 and from 17 percent women in Congress to 13 percent women in Congress, and that is not enough. There’s a lot more all of us can do.”
To help change things, she asked everyone at the event to commit to bringing a young woman under 30 to POWR’s next meeting.
“The more people get concerned for themselves, for their children and their grandchildren, the more they realize democracy is a participatory sport and they can’t sit on the sidelines,” she said.
Recent Colorado transplant Marilyn Ware, a businesswoman who served as ambassador to Finland under President George W. Bush, stood in for Perino in the event’s photo line and delivered a rousing message about the upcoming election.
“We’re doing this for very significant reasons, because we need change,” she said. “We need to change the whole definition of what government is doing.” After urging politicians to clear the deadwood from the federal bureaucracy, she blasted President Barack Obama and said removing him from office is the top Republican goal next year.
The crowd gasped when Ware charged Obama with returning a bust of Winston Churchill to the British embassy after it had been on display in the White House during the terms of the last four presidents.
“He thought it belonged to him — it belonged to us,” she said with a disappointed look. (Obama replaced a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office with one of Abraham Lincoln a couple years back, creating a minor diplomatic dust-up and major public relations flap.)
Then Ware turned more personal with a plea to the women in the room to use their particular influence in the 2012 election.
“Ladies, you know hundreds and hundreds of people — your sixth grade best friend, your cousin who never was active before,” she said. “We want to welcome every single one of those people, as an activist or a voter or both. And if anyone can do it without a whole lot of fuss and muss, it’s a group of women.”
House Speaker Frank McNulty talked about the importance of holding a majority, even if only by a single vote, in his chamber and credited “strong Republican women who can lead” with forming the backbone of his caucus. McNulty went around the room introducing his colleagues, including House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, and state Reps. Carole Murray, Marcia Looper, Kathleen Conti and Libby Szabo. He also lauded the women who ran unsuccessfully for legislative seats last year for “moving the needle” significantly in tough districts and vowed to increase his majority next year.
Then state party Chairman Ryan Call took the microphone and reminded the crowd that Republican women hold a distinct place in the state’s political history.
“The history of our party is intertwined with the contributions of tremendous, strong-minded women in our party,” Call said. “It may surprise you to find out that, while Colorado was the second state to grant suffrage to women — Wyoming beat us out by a couple of years — Colorado was the very first state in the nation to elect a woman to state public office.” In 1894, he said, Colorado sent three women to the state legislature, and all three were Republicans.
Call said everyone at the event would be given complimentary tickets to the next POWR gathering Perino attends, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Stephens took the floor with a message about the importance of party unity and a plea for Republican women to support one another.
“The speaker and I are very clear about what the future has to bring in 2012,” she said. “It’s very simple: beat Obama. And we have to grow this majority. And we will not grow this majority if we continue to snipe and gossip and stab and hurt one another.”
Her entreaty — aimed at fellow Republicans who criticized Stephens earlier this year for co-sponsoring legislation to establish health insurance exchanges deemed by the Tea Party to be too much in line with Obama’s signature health care reforms — brought just scattered applause from the group
Underlining the importance of women sticking together, Stephens concluded: “The question I have for you tonight is, are we going to promote one another? Are we going to get in the game? Are we going to stay unified, are we going to stay solidified?”
It’s up to Republican women to sway their neighbors with “quiet stories” grounded in everyday life, said Murray.
“I think our challenge this year is to talk to everyone as if they are an unaffiliated woman,” she said, pointing to the state’s even divide between Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters. “We can’t win if we just get Republican votes,” she elaborated. “We can’t be talking to one another. We have to be thinking where people are who live next door to us, where our friends are and finding a way of getting the message to them so they can hear it.”
That message, she said, will be most effective if it’s a “small, personal story that comes from your heart.” Recounting how she changed the mind of a relative who has always voted Democratic, Murray added, “Tell it over and over, for instance, about how Obamacare might affect you or affect your business.”
POWR was formed in early 2010 and holds monthly meetings at the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association in Denver. Its next gathering will feature a talk by Dr. Jill Vecchio with what’s billed as a doctor’s perspective on fighting Obama’s health reform plans.