Karen Handel was caught on tape admitting how hard it is to run as a Republican woman because of the lack of support.
Former Georgia Rep. Karen Handel complained to supporters about the difficulty of running for office as a Republican woman, lamenting about women attacking her and the lack of a network, according to a recording obtained Monday by Shareblue Media.
Handel was a congresswoman for less than one full term, winning a special election in 2017 only to lose in 2018 to gun safety advocate Rep. Lucy McBath, a Democrat. Handel is competing in a tough Republican primary, hoping for a rematch with McBath in 2020.
At an event Saturday with LGBT conservative group Log Cabin Republicans, Handel seemed to blame Republican women for attacking other Republican women, thereby making it harder to run for office.
"Women have to be better about being willing to lean over to another women and straighten up her crown without blasting it to the world that it is crooked in the first place," Handel said.
Later in the conversation, Handel spoke about the difficulty of running as a Republican woman.
"I don't know, it's very difficult," she said, adding that "women are still kinda new, and we don't have as big of a network."
Listen to the full recording:
Women have served in Congress for more than 100 years. The first woman to serve in Congress was Rep. Jeannette Rankin in 1917. The first woman ever to serve in the Senate was Sen. Rebecca Felton, from Handel's home state of Georgia, in 1922.
The Handel campaign did not respond to a request for comment about her statements.
As for a network, Republican women seeking office met over the summer with some of the same complaints as Handel.
"We are so welcomed in the background to help volunteer, to help spread information, but when it comes time for a woman to really step up into the spotlight, I almost feel like it's crickets,” Elana Doyle, a 26-year-old Republican thinking about running for office, said in July. "I admire that about the Democrats, how they embrace women and ... they say, 'We need you.'"
The 2018 election saw historic gains for women entering Congress overall, yet the number of Republican women dropped from 22 to just 13. At the moment, 90% of Republicans in the House of Representatives are white men, and two of the 13 Republican women have already announced they will not seek reelection in 2020.
One of those women not running, Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN), was in charge of recruiting more Republican women to run for Congress. One of the remaining Republican women in Congress, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, floated an idea of supporting Republican women in primaries across the country.
The Republican tapped to lead 2020 elections efforts, Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, blasted the idea. "I think that's a mistake," Emmer said in December. "It shouldn't be just based on looking for a specific set of ingredients — gender, race, religion — and then we're going to play in the primary."
Multiple high-profile Republican men accused of sexual assault yet embraced by the party — from Trump to Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — may also add to the difficulty of recruiting women candidates.
Democratic-aligned groups have spent decades cultivating networks and supporting women who want to run for office.
"EMILY's List has spent nearly 35 years working to elect women and is proud to be part of a network of five million members looking to elect pro-choice Democratic women around the country and in all kinds of races," Christina Reynolds, vice president of communications for EMILY's List, told Shareblue. "While we understand firsthand what it's like to face challenges running for office, we also know that that network supports women like Lucy McBath because they stand up for women, their families and their rights."
In 2018, Democrats added 35 freshmen women to their ranks. Republicans added one new woman.
In the 2018 midterm election, EMILY's List spent $100 million helping elect Democratic women to various levels of office, including McBath in Georgia. In contrast, a Republican group supporting women has spent just $6.5 million over the last two decades, according to the New York Times.
As Handel searches for a network of support and hopes no women attack her too much, McBath recently announced she is laser-focused on continuing to represent Georgia in Congress and already has the support of EMILY's List.