Editor's note: Correction appended.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Earlier this month, the highest-ranking Republican woman in the U.S. House led a band of female colleagues on a fundraising tour through Texas. That most of the group represented districts in other states was almost beside the point.
“We did a swing through Texas, highlighting some of the Republican women that are currently serving in the House,” said U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, who serves as the House Republican Conference chairwoman.
Efforts to increase the number of women in Congress have drawn more attention this year, as Democrats are postured to nominate the first major-party female presidential nominee in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The aim of the four-city, two-day swing was to both raise money for the coming fall general election campaigns and to showcase two freshman GOP up-and-comers: U.S. Reps. Martha McSally of Arizona and Mimi Walters of California.
“CMR asked for me to join,” McSally said, using the Capitol Hill colloquial name for McMorris Rodgers. “It was a bit of a whirlwind. The intent is for people to see that we’ve got qualified, capable, smart women that are in Congress.”
There are currently 84 women in the U.S. House — 62 Democrats and 22 Republicans — a sum that includes three women from the 36-member Texas delegation. Those Texas stats aren't expected to change this year because there are no viable female recruits who survived their party's primary. In South Texas, a high-profile effort by some Democrats to elect the first Texas Latina to Congress fell flat when Dolly Elizondo failed to make a Democratic primary runoff. The female challengers still running in Texas congressional races are all widely viewed by operatives in both parties as long-shots.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, was an instigating force behind the Texas trip, McMorris Rodgers said.
"Working with Kay was a great hook," McMorris Rodgers added, noting that her ten-term colleague is the only woman in the Texas GOP delegation. "She had invited us to come to Fort Worth, and then we ended up doing the events in other parts of Texas and other members helped us."
McSally, a combat fighter pilot, represents Arizona’s 2nd District — the seat former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords represented in Congress. She's expected to have a tough re-election fight as her Tucson-based district is one of the most competitive seats in the country. Walters, also a freshman, represents the heavily Republican 45th District in Orange County, California.
Along with highlighting Republican women in Congress, the event was also aimed at introducing the two freshman to a state that leverages outsized influence in GOP politics by way of its donors. With few competitive general election races most election years, Texas has often been described as an "ATM" for candidates nationally. Aside from the rematch between U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio and former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, no other Texas congressional race is viewed as competitive in November.
Granger, and several donors who have long supported her, attended March 10 events in Dallas and Fort Worth. McMorris Rodgers, McSally and Walters continued on to events in Austin and San Antonio on March 11. U.S. Reps. Will Hurd and Lamar Smith, both San Antonio Republicans, headlined the event there.
Major Texas donors involved in the tour included some of the event hosts: Kathy and Harlan Crow and Ross Perot Jr. of Dallas; Kit and Charlie Moncrief of Fort Worth; and Red McCombs of San Antonio.
A House GOP insider not authorized to speak publicly about the Texas junket said the four events combined netted an estimated $140,000.
“We got a great response,” said McMorris Rodgers, who serves as the chief messenger for House Republicans in her role as conference chairwoman. “People were quite impressed with the women and that they met and got to hear from.”
Donor checks went to The McMorris Rodgers American Dream Project, which is a joint fundraising committee of McMorris Rodgers’ congressional campaign, her leadership political action committee and the campaign arm of House Republicans, the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Republican U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan had an identical fundraising set-up for his swing through Texas in January. Like Ryan, McMorris Rodgers is a safe bet to win re-election this fall. But high-ranking members often still raise money for their own campaigns and PACs. They then turn around and cut checks to more vulnerable colleagues and to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which spends millions on campaign advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts every general election campaign.
Granger said Texas Republicans have a vested interest in helping re-elect female members of Congress, even if they're representing other states.
“We wanted to help those freshmen women members because people like Martha McSally - what a great person to have in Congress,” Granger said. “She’s a war fighter. So, we’re really helping them. We watch that.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the number of female Democrats in the U.S. House.
Disclosure: Ross Perot Jr. is a major donor to The Texas Tribune. Red McCombs was a major donor in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.