If anyone can solve the GOP’s struggles with female voters, Christine Toretti seems like the woman for the job. As the CEO of S.W. Jack Drilling, an oil-and-gas company she took over upon the death of her father, Toretti knows what it’s like to lead in a man’s world. In fact, she’s been at the business of bolstering the Republican’s female ranks for quite some time. In 1997, then Governor Tom Ridge tapped Toretti to lead an outreach effort.
“He said to me, ‘Look, I know you created this retreat for female CEO’s four years ago, and I know how passionate you are about supporting women. There’s no one that looks like you that’s at the table. If you believe in a two party system, I need you to step up.”
And step up she did, traveling across Pennsylvania meeting with women’s groups and Chambers of Commerce.
“What we found is that women feel they need to have a PhD in political science to vote, whereas a man thinks if he’s never voted but knows the word ‘President’ that he could be the next one. That’s not a criticism, it’s just an observation of how women are wired differently.”
To counter that problem, Torreti set up the Anne B. Anstine Excellence in Public Service Series, a program giving women the “soup-to-nuts-everything-they-need-to-know” tools to lead at both the local and national level.
“We’ve trained over 220 women and 117 of them have run for political office,” says Toretti. “85% of them have won. That’s just in the state of Pennsylvania.”
Now, Toretti, a GOP fundraising juggernaut, is continuing the work with her new PAC Women Lead. Here, she discusses the “War on Women” narrative, that “legitimate rape” comment, and explains why she will never run for office.
You’ve been extremely successful in the private sector. What was the moment you thought: I need to get involved in politics?
I’ve always been interested in it. When my father passed away, I became the go-to person in my community for fund-raising. When a candidate came in, I always seemed to be the person that would put it together. But as a mom, I just kept thinking about policies and how they effected my children, and if I was fortunate one day to have grandchildren, what the world was going to look like.
It was also coming from western Pennsylvania. In 1972 I think we had more corporate headquarters in the US with the exception of New York City, then by 1985, when the last steel mill was dismantled in Pittsburgh, it really became a very depressed area, and we lost a lot of the coal industry as well. Knowing that I wanted to stay in this region and have a viable option for my children to come back one day, I knew I had to get involved in economic development and in the political process.
You were very involved in efforts to elect Mitt Romney in 2012. What was your takeaway on that loss and the fact Democrats won women by 11%?
I wasn’t really surprised because I felt we had broken the cardinal rule of political campaigning which is to let your opponent identify you, and when we let the Obama campaign create this so-called “War on Women,” and really let it go unanswered, it was pretty much a fait accompli that we were done with women.
There were male Republicans and conservative commentators who got a lot of attention for their comments about rape and contraception, which became part of the “War on Women” narrative. Republicans are capable of rigorous consistency in their messaging; what was happening there?
I can think of two candidates in particular in the last cycle, Todd Akin and Richard Murdock, who said what I found were some really very bizarre things. The most notable one was the comment on “legitimate rape.” These candidates are told time and time again: stay away, let it go, do not address this. For some reason, they just can’t help themselves and they step in it. And I think part of my frustration is that in this last cycle no one called them out on it.
I think we’re afraid to a certain degree of the social conservatives. You don’t want to get into an argument you’re not going to win...
No one stood up and said, “Hey, I think you’re really off the mark. What are you talking about? Do you have any idea what you just said?” But no one was willing to call them out, and I think we’ve got to start standing up and saying, “You know, that might be that particular person’s point of view, but that doesn’t represent all Republicans and all members of our party.” And we just don’t do it. I think we’re afraid to a certain degree of the social conservatives. You don’t want to get into an argument you’re not going to win, but you are also trying to be respectful of other points of view.
What compelled you to launch your super PAC Women Lead?
I got recruited to be the finance co-chair for the RNC for 2011-2012...the thing that I found wherever we went when we were meeting with potential major donors, was there were very few if any women at any of these meetings... So, when everything was said and done I said “OK, we’re missing women as major donors, we’re not communicating with them, we’re not reaching out for them.”
Republican women who run in federal races have twice as much trouble getting out of primaries as Democratic women do.
Republican women who run in federal races have twice as much trouble getting out of primaries as Democratic women do. Let’s put it all together: take what I know, what I’ve learned in Pennsylvania from a political strategy point of view, plus the network we’ve developed through the RNC fundraising over the two years, and see if we can’t go out and create something that really has been missing. That’s how the Women Lead PAC came about.
You are a hugely successful fundraiser. Do you have any insight into why women find fundraising more difficult?
Well, you could go into a whole psychological analysis, but I think for me, why I’m not shy about doing it, is that my dad really raised me to be independent. They knew that I was going to be their only child, and I was fourth generation in a business that was really male dominated, so a lot of the traits that I carry I think are more male orientated.
If you’re going to ask someone for a million dollars, you better damn well have written a check for a million dollars.
So, number one, I really get along with the guys. Number two, I write checks and a lot of women don’t write checks, and if you’re out raising money, whether it’s for your hospital or the United Way, people give money to their peers. If you’re going to ask someone for a million dollars, you better damn well have written a check for a million dollars. There’s a whole different dynamic. So, I think the fact that I’m not shy about writing checks as well as asking is different.
There are women who support small government principles but find a disconnect between that and legislators talking about what goes on in their doctor’s office. Will Republicans need to review how they talk about social issues in order to grow female support?
I would like to say yes but I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think the reality is that -- and people say this all the time -- if you’re running for an elected office on the Republican side, in a primary you run to the right and then in the general you go to the middle.
I would love to say that we’ll shy away from the social issues, but I am afraid that that’s not in the cards in the near future.
Consistently, the people who come out and vote in primaries are social conservatives, so it takes a very unique individual who can not embrace a lot of those social issues. It takes a talent. It takes a very good, charismatic communicator and those aren’t that easy to find. So, I would love to say that we’ll shy away from the social issues, but I am afraid that that’s not in the cards in the near future.
You devote a lot of time supporting other women for office. When are you running for office?
Never! And I’ll tell you why. First, I think running for office is one of the most difficult things you can ever do in your life, and I’ve got the attention span of -- oh, I don’t know, someone said one day that I have the attention span of a gnat on crack!
What I like is that I can do what I do and help a tremendous amount of people and if I was just focused on me as a legislator it would just be about that. This way, I have the ability to bring a lot of people in and I think it maximizes my efforts and I find it really fulfilling.
What do you think your father would make of all this?
Oh, my gosh, I’ve often said wherever he is he’s just sitting there laughing his behind off because he used to always tell me I wasn’t tough enough. I think he would have been really shocked to see where I’ve come. I remember the first time I walked into the White House, I just started laughing and someone said, “What’s so funny?” and I said, “I was just thinking my dad would get such a kick out of the fact that I’m here.”
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