Republicans seeking to increase their party’s diversity in Congress and challenge a media portrayal of the conservative movement as “bigoted” launched a PAC on Monday to support candidates “as diverse as our nation.”
That’s the goal that Catalyst PAC describes on a website soliciting contributions to support candidates who “look a little different from what’s thought of as the ‘traditional’ Republican.”
“The GOP understands that it’s hit a low point as far as its ability to represent the American public,” said communications director Albert Eisenberg, who described the group as the first of its kind on the Republican side. “Our brand is really toxic.”
The PAC joins only a handful of Republican fundraising groups that have focused on candidates’ identity as much as the issues that they support, a strategy that has proved much more successful for Democrats.
The effort also underscores a movement within the GOP to respond to tensions surrounding race, gender and ethnicity that have come to define partisan politics under President Donald Trump.
Republicans are seeking to recover from House losses in last year’s midterms partly through attempts to recruit a more diverse slate of candidates in 2020.
The event comes days after just eight House Republicans voted for an LGBTQ equality measure, and the Trump administration rolled out a proposed overhaul of the country’s immigration system that some Democrats said was racist.
While the 2018 midterms ushered in the most diverse class of Democrats in congressional history, the current 197-member House Republican Conference had just 13 women, while nine members were either Native American, African American or Latino. Republicans are working to increase those numbers in 2020, and are touting the diversity of the candidates who have already entered the race.
“The GOP cannot be comfortable merely finding voters and candidates in country clubs and rural areas,” said Catalyst PAC board member Steve Cortes, who served on Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council. “Our vision empowers all Americans, from racial minorities to urban millennials.”
Four of the Democratic seats the GOP is targeting — California’s 25th and 45th districts, Texas’ 7th and Florida’s 26th — have sizable nonwhite or Hispanic populations. All are currently represented by women.
Catalyst PAC, a multi-candidate 527 group, will endorse and raise money for congressional candidates who are nonwhite, LGBTQ or religious and ethnic minorities, said Eisenberg, who said he has a personal stake in the issue as a gay man and advocate for the LGBTQ community.
It will also support candidates in primary races, he said. That’s important because groups seeking to increase diversity argue that Republican female and minority candidates need extra help raising money and attracting attention at the beginning of their campaigns, and the NRCC does not openly take sides in primaries.
Similar strategies have proved effective for Democratic groups seeking to increase congressional diversity.
Groups such as EMILY’s List, dedicated to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights, and BOLD PAC, which aims to increase diversity in House and Senate Democratic leadership, have been fundraising juggernauts on the left. EMILY’s List, which has helped elect hundreds of Democratic women, raised and spent almost $70 million last cycle.
BOLD PAC, the fundraising arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, raised and spent more than $11 million that year — exponentially more than the $950,000 it raised and spent just four years before.
The fundraising arm of the Log Cabin Republicans, which backs candidates who support LGBT rights, raised only $7,000 and spent about $8,000 last cycle, down from its height of $39,000 raised and $37,000 spent in the 2012 cycle.