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House GOP Women Line Up for Ticket

The pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be the Republican vice presidential nominee has put a new spotlight on the party’s female House Members, who are stepping into a more prominent role in the 2008 campaign.

Last week when Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) campaign rolled out the Palin Truth Squad — a group designated to counter attacks on the previously little-known Alaska chief executive — women in Congress accounted for 12 of 19 “national members” on the list.

Through television appearances, conference calls and talk- radio hits, these female Members will be higher profile surrogates for the ticket this fall than even they were expecting.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said she had done some surrogate work on McCain’s behalf before Palin joined the ticket, but she noted that there has been a definite uptick in recent weeks and the reasons for that are twofold.

“One, having a female on the ticket and, secondly, she is a conservative, nontraditional political type, if you will,” Blackburn said.

With independent-leaning female voters once again pegged as the key demographic in the presidential race and with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (N.Y.) campaign for the Democratic nod, Rep. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) said she and other Members knew early on they would probably have an increased role in 2008.

Fallin said there had been discussions earlier this cycle within the House Republican Conference about the need to plan for an increased focus on female voters.

“We knew there would be a larger voter turnout among women and that we needed to be really prepared and ready to reach out,” Fallin said. “Having Gov. Palin on the ballot gave us even more reason to become involved. Now that she’s on the presidential ticket, we feel even more compelled to” talk about what she and McCain would do if elected.

One of the reasons that Fallin, Blackburn and the other female Members can be effective surrogates, they said, is because they identify with similar struggles in trying to establish credibility in the political world.

Perhaps more importantly, they also can speak firsthand about the balancing act of working mothers and the juggling of family and political interests.

“Whether you’re Democrat or independent or Republican, that is something that people relate to,” Blackburn said. “I think that people really appreciate the time that she has put into this. I think they appreciate the way she works hard at serving well. And they are cheering for her to do well as she is the VP candidate and then the VP.”

Blackburn said she believes the prominent focus on women — both as voters and as candidates — is more intense than it has been in recent election cycles.

“There is more attention on that I think since ’92, the last time there was the year of the woman,” she said.

No female Senators were named to the Truth Squad list. There are five Republican women in the Senate, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), whose father was Palin’s predecessor and the person she defeated in a 2006 primary. Two of the other GOP women in the chamber are facing re-election challenges this fall: Sens. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) and Susan Collins (Maine).

Aside from Blackburn and Fallin, other Members of the Palin Truth Squad include GOP Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Thelma Drake (Va.), Virginia Foxx (N.C.), Kay Granger (Texas), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), Candice Miller (Mich.), Sue Myrick (N.C.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) and Heather Wilson (N.M.). The list accounts for more than 50 percent of the Republican women currently serving in the House.

Drake, Ros-Lehtinen and Capito are being targeted for defeat by Democrats this cycle, while Wilson lost a Senate primary earlier this year and will be looking for a new job come January.

McMorris Rodgers’ son Cole, born in April 2007, has Down syndrome. Palin’s 4-month-old son, Trig, also has Down syndrome.

Smelling an opportunity to make political hay, Democrats even targeted Rep. Jean Schmidt’s (R-Ohio) exclusion from the Truth Squad list.

A news release from the Hamilton County (Ohio) Democratic Party claimed that the incumbent Congresswoman’s omission is an indication she is viewed as untrustworthy, even within her own party.

“First John McCain excludes Jean Schmidt from an event in her own district, now she is snubbed by the campaign once again,” Hamilton County Democratic Chairman Tim Burke said, referring to a July campaign stop in Portsmouth, Ohio. “It’s becoming very clear that Jean Schmidt … is too much of an embarrassment for the McCain campaign and the people of the second district.”

Meanwhile, amid private griping among Democrats about Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and his campaign’s slow reaction to push back against the excitement surrounding Palin among Republicans, on Friday the Obama camp announced that Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) would join soap opera actress Deidre Hall on a “Change We Need Women for Obama” tour through Central Florida over the weekend.

Maloney was originally a supporter of Clinton’s presidential bid.

“Women have a big decision to make this November,” Obama for America Deputy Florida Director Ashley Walker said in a statement. “Do they vote for John McCain, who has voted with President Bush 90 percent of the time and has consistently rallied against equal pay for women? Or do they get behind Barack Obama who is committed to equal pay for equal work and providing health care for Florida’s families?”