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Republicans work to recruit female and minority candidates even as they criticize diversity programs

Mazi Pilip, center, the Republican congressional candidate for New York's 3rd district, reacts as she votes early at a polling station in Massapequa, N.Y., Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. The race to replace disgraced former Rep. George Santos pits Pilip, a Nassau County legislator, against former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat who represented the district for three terms before quitting to run for governor. Joining Pilip are, former U.S Rep. Peter King, right, and Oyster Bay, N.Y., Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino. (Adam Gray/Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are critical of diversity and inclusion programs within the federal government and elsewhere, but they see recruiting women and minority candidates, along with veterans, as key to expanding their slim majority in November.

Rep. Richard Hudson, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, recently listed for reporters a slew of candidates that he described as fitting the "formula” for the GOP expanding their ranks in November.

There was Prasanth Reddy, a cancer doctor who immigrated to the U.S. from India and joined the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He's running for a congressional seat in northeast Kansas. Then there was Alison Esposito, a gay former police detective running for a seat in New York.

Another example Hudson cited was George Logan, whose parents came to the U.S. from Guatemala and is running for a seat in Connecticut. Also, there's Kevin Lincoln, an African-American and Hispanic mayor in Stockton, Calif., and Mayra Flores, who is making another run. She made history by becoming the first Mexican-born congresswoman, but she subsequently lost in the 2022 mid-terms.

“These are not run-of-the-mill generic Republicans," Hudson said.

Republicans are hoping the gains they made in the 2022 midterm elections will continue with their latest slate of candidates. House Democrats have a sizeable advantage when it comes to minority voters and don't intend to cede any ground, announcing a $35 million investment last month focused on reaching out to voters of color through polling, organizing and ads. The contest to appeal to female and minority voters will certainly be one of the factors determining which party controls the House next year.

Hudson noted that in the last presidential election, prognosticators were predicting that Republicans would lose seats.

“We beat 15 Democrats and every one of those we beat with a woman, a minority candidate or a veteran,” Hudson said. “That’s really been the playbook for the last two cycles. And so we’re using that same formula.”

When asked what she makes of the House Republican focus on recruiting females and minorities, the chair of the campaign arm for House Democrats was skeptical.

“I think they say a lot of things, but I think their actions really are what folks should look at,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene, the chair of the campaign arm for House Democrats. “And their actions have been the opposite. They mock diversity and equity, and they put forward policies that go against diverse communities across the county.”

DelBene is referring in part to the scores of policy mandates that House Republicans have included in spending bills. Most of the bills sought to prohibit taxpayer dollars from going to offices and programs related to diversity, equity and inclusion, which focus on ensuring fair treatment and participation of all people, especially those that have been subject to discrimination.

It's not just House Republicans seeking to end such programs. Republican lawmakers in at least 17 states have proposed some three dozen bills to restrict or require public disclosure of DEI initiatives, according to an Associated Press analysis using the bill-tracking software Plural.

Hudson sidestepped on whether the focus on attracting female and minority candidates as House Republican candidates clashes with efforts to clamp down on diversity and inclusion programs within the federal government and elsewhere. He described it as “apples and oranges” and saying “I just haven't given a lot of thought to that.”

“The motivation is we want our Congress to reflect America. And we believe that if we have dynamic candidates with compelling life stories, then they can win any district because they are not generic Republicans," he said.

Hudson will see early test results on the GOP strategy as soon as Tuesday in a New York special election to replace Republican Rep. George Santos, who was booted from office by colleagues in December. Tom Suozzi is the Democratic candidate, seeking a return to the seat he held for three terms before making an unsuccessful run for governor.

The Republican candidate is Mazi Pilip, an Ethiopian immigrant, former Israeli paratrooper and mother of seven. Hudson said she an example of the type of candidate he believes can break through to voters with a compelling life story.

Alison Esposito, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin's lieutenant governor pick, speaks to supporters during a campaign rally on Oct. 31, 2022, in Westchester, N.Y. House Republicans may be critical of diversity and inclusion programs but they see recruiting women and minority candidates, along with veterans, as key to expanding their slim majority in November. Esposito, a gay former police detective, is running for a House seat in New York in November 2024. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, File)

“She's a mom. She's a soldier. She's an immigrant. It's the American dream,” Hudson said.

The emphasis on diversity that Hudson noted, the recruiting of minorities and females, makes sense politically given the increased racial and ethnic diversity of U.S. voters.

According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Hispanics eligible to vote has increased by about 12% over the past four years and the number of Asian Americans eligible to vote has grown by about 15%. The number of Blacks eligible to vote has grown by 7%. That’s compared to an overall increase in eligible voters of 3%.

Another example of the Republican outreach to women is Rep. Elise Stefanik's E-Pac, which was launched after the 2018 mid-terms to support and increase the number of women in Congress. The PAC's website notes that in the 2020 elections, 11 out of the 15 districts that flipped to Republicans were won by women endorsed by the PAC, and that it supported a record number of Hispanic women in the 2022 elections.

“They have their own DEI offices. They don't like to call them that,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., specifically citing the PAC. “But the Republican Party is full of their own DEI initiatives because they actually find that their performance, like many other organizations, can sometimes stand to benefit from diverse perspectives.”

Stefanik said she was proud of helping expand the ranks of female Republicans in the House, and “we're going to win with the strongest candidates.”

Steven Horsford, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he was glad Republicans were acknowledging the importance of recruiting women and minorities.

“They also need to acknowledge it in their agenda,” Horsford said. “They cannot be speaking in one voice and then doing in another something that's weakening the very things that help create an inclusive environment for everybody.”

Republicans have made gains in increasing their minority and female members, but still lag Democrats on most fronts.

Republicans doubled their number of Black members in the House to four in the last election, while there are 55 Black Democratic members. The Hispanic and Latino ranks in the House include 15 Republicans and 37 Democrats.

Women make up 126 members of the House, with 92 being Democrats and 34 being Republicans. The statistics don't include those delegates and the resident commissioner for Puerto Rico, who cannot vote on the final passing of bills but are members of Congress.


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