More than 1,000 Republican women are in Oklahoma City this weekend to talk politics, make plans and — they hope — pave the way for electing more conservative women to office.
Members of the National Federation of Republican Women are holding their 42nd Biennial Convention this weekend, a three-day event that organizers said is one of the largest meetings of Republicans this year and the official kick off to the NFRW's 2024 political season.
Eileen Sobjack, the NFRW's national president, said more than 1,000 members have registered. Sobjack said that number represents one of the largest convention turnouts in a decade. She said the group has 64,000 members and has clubs in 47 states and Puerto Rico.
"Our registration has been epic," Sobjack said. "We've had more than expected."
One reason for the increased attendance could be delegates had fewer concerns about the pandemic; others said they came because of internal issues — such as whether or not the organization should open its doors to transgender women.
What are the main issues Republican women are thinking about this election cycle?
Andrea Pisarcik, a delegate from Greenville, South Carolina, said she traveled to Oklahoma to network and because of concerns about including transgender women within the organization. Pisarcik said she was a firm 'no.'
"We don't want a man wearing a dress in our organization," she said. "We want to make sure that no trans women are allowed to join."
Sharon Shuthard, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, agreed. Shuthard, a NFRW member since 2010, said the organization was private, and should stay for "women only.“
"We’re very conservative," she said. "We are.”
Maria Sofia, a delegate from the D.C. area in Maryland, countered that Republicans need to focus on being welcoming and inclusive. "Arguing, bickering and dividing each other, I think that's exactly what the Democrats want," she said.
Shuthard, a volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center, said she also expected abortion to remain a key issue for Republicans at the ballot. She said she became a Republican at the age of 17 after the Roe v. Wade decision. “I can’t speak for the whole nation, I can only speak for me, but it will absolutely decide my vote," she said.
Still, for Sobjack, the big goal of this year's convention is education.
Sobjack said campaign training is a big part of what the organization does. "Our women are putting in the hours," she said. "In the past two years we have made more than 5.7 million phone calls, and our women have put in over 14 million total hours on campaigns."
Nancy Stirman, a past president of the NFRW's Oklahoma chapter, said the convention offered a chance for Republican women to network and learn together. “It’s not just about getting Republicans elected,” she said. “It’s about getting Republican women elected.”
Workshops, straw poll for the presidential election on the schedule
Sobjack said the convention would hold workshops on fundraising and leadership and would conduct a straw poll of likely GOP presidential candidates. Polling opened Friday with results expected Sunday. Sobjack said the poll would be conducted via a phone application or at a convention polling booth.
Kyle Loveless, a representative of WPA Intelligence ― the group conducting the straw poll — said as of 9 a.m. Friday more than 300 delegates had voted.
With a focus on the 2024 election, the NFRW is working to hold on to female voters. An analysis by the Pew Research Center showed that women voters had previously shifted their support to Democratic nominees but Pew reported that shift has narrowed in the past few years — for example, Trump won 44 percent of female voters in 2020, up from the 39 percent he captured in 2016 when his opponent was Hillary Clinton.
Many of those same voters — some of them known as Mama Bears — are conservative mothers and grandmothers who have pushed back against gender identity discussions in public schools, questioned book choices in public and school libraries and have been vocal opponents of diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
Sofia, the delegate from Maryland, said the organization is also working to increase its reach with young women by focusing on issues that people can agree upon, such as the economy. She said right now, only about 10 to 15 percent of the group's membership is age 45 or younger.
"I expect to see young women more fired up because I think some of the issues are hitting a little closer to home," she said. "The millennial that was buying that Starbucks every day might not be buying that Starbucks every day."
Republican women, Stirman said, have worked and campaigned for more than a century. “We have worked civic organizations, political organizations and organized. We have raised money, and we continue to do all that. It’s about getting out the vote and it’s about helping women get elected.”
Those efforts have intensified in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Stirman predicted many Republican women would withhold an endorsement of the party’s frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, until Trump announces who he plans to name as a running mate.
“I, myself — and I know many others — are waiting to see who Trump names,” she said.
Several Oklahoma officials are expected to speak to the convention, including U.S. Sen. James Lankford, Gov. Kevin Stitt, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell and State Auditor Cindy Byrd.
Stitt’s spokesman, Abegail Cave, said the governor would deliver a welcome message and speak about the need to elect more Republicans to office.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Republican women meeting in OKC to plan for next election cycle