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House Dems: Focus on 'all the single ladies'

By Deirdre Walsh, : CNN Senior Congressional Producer
May 15, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03: Singer Beyonce performs during the Pepsi Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03: Singer Beyonce performs during the Pepsi Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
  • Party officials recognize that Dem chances of retaking the House are remote at best
  • But they're recruiting women candidates in many competitive districts to win over some GOP seats
  • Recently, these candidates visited Washington to raise money and meet with VP Joe Biden

Washington (CNN) -- House Democrats are taking a cue from Beyonce and targeting "all the single ladies" in the hopes they can take over Republican held seats this November.

Party officials recognize that Democrats' chances of retaking control of the House are remote at best, but by zeroing-in on unmarried women, who helped propel President Barack Obama to his second term, they believe they can shrink the GOP majority.

Democrats have recruited female candidates in many competitive districts, crafted a message about how the current Republican agenda impacts women and created a technology program designed to identify unmarried women and get them to the polls this fall.

More than 60% of the candidates included in the House Democrats' "red to blue" program - which funnels resources to top tier races - are women.

Raising money, visiting the Veep

Recently, these candidates visited Washington to raise money, meet with Vice President Joe Biden and huddle with top leaders to get campaign advice.

Aimee Belgard, an attorney, mom, and local elected official who is running to replace GOP Rep. Jon Runyan from New Jersey, emphasized in an interview with CNN that she'd be the first woman in a decade to be elected to the state's congressional delegation, if she wins.

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"As I'm out talking to them, they are glad to see someone who understands the issues that they are talking about - whether it's about the economy and their families, you know -- I can relate to that," Belgard told CNN.

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Iowa Democratic candidate Staci Appel, a former member of the State Assembly, touts her role pushing through Iowa's first statewide equal pay bill in 2009. She says Iowa has never elected a woman to a federal office, a fact she says she uses in her message to voters.

"You're looking at a woman who is going to go out there and fight for you. So it gives you a strong reason to vote for somebody," Appel told CNN.

Democratic candidate Martha Robertson is facing New York Republican Rep. Tom Reed, and says she and other female candidates are an antidote to the dysfunction in Washington.

"We have bipartisan record of really getting things done. We have a guy who is just sitting in Washington just voting 'no' on everything and people want to see some change. They're tired of the fighting - we can make a difference," Robertson said.

Dems see an opening

The results of the 2012 election show why Democrats believe they have an opening if they concentrate on single women.

According to CNN's exit polls, unmarried women were about one quarter of the electorate in 2012, which was a record high. In that election, single women voted 68%-31% for Democrats over Republicans in congressional contests.

Democrats admit they can't replicate that level in a non-presidential year, but they believe boosting turnout in several dozen districts can overtake the advantage Republicans traditionally have among married women.

The House Democratic campaign arm is using the playbook developed by Virginia's Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in his victorious 2013 campaign.

McAuliffe lost among men, but won the election because women supported him over the then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli by 9 points. Among unmarried women, the margin was more dramatic -- McAuliffe prevailed 67% -25%.

The campaign committee created "ROSIE," a voter modeling program named after the iconic World War II "Rosie the Riveter," which they say stands for "Reengaging Our Sisters in Elections." This program culls data to identify unmarried voters, and then targets messages using email, paid mail and social media to motivate them to vote in November.

The task to get these women motivated enough to go to the polls will be tough.

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Seeking a narrative

A poll released last month by Democracy Corps, a Democratic leaning group, projects a 20-point drop off in unmarried female voters from 2012 to 2014.

After seeing the impact of what happened in the 2010 midterm election when many women stayed home and Republicans gained the majority, Democratic candidates are talking about issues that hit unmarried women's pocketbooks -- an increase in the minimum wage, an extension for jobless benefits and legislation promoting equal pay.

Democrats don't have the power in the House to move legislation on any of these items. But their campaign strategy includes turning losing battles on the House floor into a narrative to argue that House GOP members are ignoring issues that these women care about.

"As long as Republicans keep blocking equal pay for equal work, restricting women's health choices and delaying the Violence Against Women Act, women will continue to run - and win - as Democrats," House Democratic campaign chairman Steve Israel told CNN.

But Missouri GOP Rep. Ann Wagner, who is helping with the House Republican effort dubbed "Project Grow" to expand the party's female ranks in the House, told CNN that unmarried and married women care about the same issue this year -- jobs.

She predicted this fall female voters overall will line up with the Republican economic agenda that includes job training, education, fixing the problems with Obamacare, and creating more energy jobs.

"We're doers and we want to get things done. We want solutions, and we think we have message that resonates with all women," Wagner told CNN.

As McAuliffe did in Virginia last year, House Democratic candidates are painting their Republican opponents with the broad brush of being right-wing ideologues that will endanger the priorities of women.

Robertson said of Republican Rep. Reed, "He's completely tea party - he's the most extreme in New York State on his labor votes, on his shutdown votes, it's just across the board."

Even if this group of female candidates does get elected to the House they will likely enter Congress as members of the minority - and the least senior. But they don't see that dynamic as a problem because they still believe they can have an impact serving their constituents.

"I think electing more women and more people who want come up here and get things done -- that is what makes a difference. We're trying to change the environment." Appel told CNN.

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