Thousands of conservative activists will assemble near Washington, D.C. next week to collectively heal from the disappointment of the November election and to find a path forward, away from a year that included accusations of a Republican “war on women” and saw the largest election gender gap in recorded history.
And yet after female voters broke for President Barack Obama by double digits in the fall, the number of women taking the stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference will be far outstripped by the number of men.
Of the approximately 250 speakers on the CPAC roster, only about 71 are women, American Conservative Union spokeswoman Laura Rigas told TheBlaze Thursday. Though she emphasized that the final number could shift, it’s a figure indicative of a movement that has sometimes been at odds with female voters.
Author and commentator Kate Obenshain, who will address the conference, said it’s a shame there aren’t more women being featured at one of the most high-profile conservative events of the year.
“I’m surprised they’re still including me because everywhere I go, I talk about the fact that there need to be more women prominently focused on this event,” Obenshain said on TheBlaze TV’s “Wilkow!” “We have so many great conservative women within the conservative movement, it would completely eviscerate the left’s argument of this fake war on women.”
Rigas noted that the number of female speakers scheduled for CPAC is up from 53 last year, as is the number of black and Latino speakers. In 2012, there were nine black speakers and 10 Latinos, compared to at least 15 black and 18 Latino speakers slated for this year, she said. In addition, half of the event’s emcees are women under age 40.
Al Cardenas, the head of the American Conservative Union, which puts on CPAC, is no stranger to calls for the Republican Party to diversify. The day after the election, he himself said the GOP was “too old, too white and too male.”
In a statement to TheBlaze, Cardenas called this year’s CPAC “by far the most youthful and demographically represented” but said organizers didn’t use a “quota system” to determine who got an invite.
“ACU is well on its way toward the promotion of diversity in the conservative movement by highlighting men and women of color, Latinos, African Americans, Asians and our youth — through a true merit system,” Cardenas said. “By that we mean that their invitation stems from their actual contributions to the conservative movement and not based on some quota system.”
Some of the bigger women’s names scheduled to speak are former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Utah mayor and former congressional candidate Mia Love and Minnesota congresswoman and former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was on a list of invited speakers but, as of Friday, her attendance had not been confirmed.
To be sure, one of the biggest factors in the lack of female speakers is the paucity of nationally elected women. This year saw a record number of women take their seats in Congress with a total of 98 — 78 women in the House of Representatives and 20 in the Senate. In both chambers, female Democrats outnumber female Republicans.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a confirmed CPAC speaker, told TheBlaze it’s an issue that needs to be addressed and that it goes beyond the conference.
“All of us have to say we recognize it is a problem that we don’t have as many women in the forefront as we would like,” Blackburn said. “While we have just dozens and hundreds of women at the local elected level and state elected level, we have fewer at the national level.”
Blackburn noted conservative women in general “come to the [political] process a little later in life.”
“They travel the circuitous route in their careers,” she said. “They have their families and they work in the private sector and they take time off to care for families and children and older parents, and then they circle back around to their jobs and careers and then they get to a point and generally choose to run for elected office.”
Crystal Wright, who runs the website conservativeblackchick.com and is also a confirmed CPAC speaker, said she’s not bothered by the overall lack of female speakers on the schedule because it simply reflects the reality of elected women in politics.
“One of the issues facing the party that we’ve all talked about, that everybody was up in arms about after Romney’s loss, is diversity,” said Wright, who will participate in a panel about the major issues facing conservatives. “Diversity includes women. However, we know women disproportionately aren’t running for office at the rate of men. They don’t. OK? So I think what we see reflected in CPAC isn’t unusual.”
The issue also is not simply a Republican one—the Obama White House faced scrutiny earlier this year after the president made a series of white male cabinet picks in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
“They [CPAC] have a lot of women on that stage of all colors and ethnicity meanwhile Barack Obama’s struggling…none of these women he’s appointed have been appointed to really significant key cabinet positions,” Wright said.
She added, “People mocked Mitt Romney for asking when he was governor about binders full of women, but Mitt did the right thing because he wanted to see beyond his own personal experience and that’s really what this is all about.”