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EMILY’s List sees female candidate boom in Trump era

The Hill: EMILY's List sees female candidate boom in Trump era

by Lisa Hagen

EMILY's List is gearing up to be a big player in the 2018 midterms, with the influential group that aims to elect female candidates saying Thursday that more than 15,000 women have already reached out to them about running for office next year. 

President Stephanie Schriock told reporters at the group’s Washington headquarters that the unprecedented number of potential female candidates marks a huge uptick from the 2016 cycle, when 920 women talked to EMILY’s List about potential electoral bids. She said they hear from 20 to 50 women a day about potentially running for office, with half of them younger than 45. 

EMILY's List, which backs female candidates who support abortion rights, has already waded into a handful of House and Senate races ahead of the 2018 midterms. The group will continue to actively play in primaries to help elect more women to Congress and local levels of government.

“We look at this not just as our crop of candidates for 2018, because they’re not all going to run right away,” Schriock said. “This is an extraordinary pipeline of future candidates for the next decade.”

Democrats have seen an influx of people signaling an interest in public office for federal and local positions since President Trump’s election, and EMILY’s List has been no exception to that.

The group is focused on building up the ranks of female lawmakers in the 115th Congress. Currently, 83 women serve in the House, while a record number of 21 women serve in the Senate. 

The group is slated to hold nearly 20 trainings across the country in its “Run to Win” program that will help potential candidates prepare and launch campaigns. It is targeting more than 80 seats for recruitment, though it acknowledges that it might not find candidates for every seat. Democrats need to flip 24 seats in order to take back the House.

EMILY’s List has already made endorsements in six House races. Like other Democrats, Schriock said her group is focusing heavily on seven California House districts that are held by Republicans but went for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

The group’s first 2018 endorsement went to Katie Porter, a law professor and former student of progressive favorite Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who is now running against Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.).

Walters’s district, which Clinton won by more than 5 points, has been a top target for national Democrats. The Orange County seat is receiving a groundswell of interest and already has a crowded Democratic primary. 

That’s why EMILY’s List is going in early to help push through its female candidates. That’s especially true in California, where a top-two primary runoff system means that two Democrats could compete against each other in a general.

“Women are only 19 percent of Congress, and if we don’t push through these primaries, we do not change these numbers, so we intend to be pretty active in a number of primaries,” Schriock said.

In the wake of Democrats’ four special election defeats in 2017, the party is still searching for a message that goes beyond running as the anti-Trump alternative. The losses have also left Democrats considering the fate of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) after Republican special election attacks framed Democratic candidates as tools for Pelosi’s liberal agenda.

Schriock defended Pelosi’s leadership, arguing that voters will cast their ballots on economic issues instead of candidates’ ties to the San Francisco congresswoman.

Schriock said EMILY’s List is advising candidates to stay focused on healthcare as Senate Republicans try to unite their caucus around an ObamaCare repeal that consistently scores low approval ratings with voters.

“This healthcare bill is really truly driving the energy on the Democratic side and what I believe will be some depressed voting on the Republican side,” she said. “This is how waves are made.”

EMILY’s List has also been involved in races in the Senate, where Democrats will have to defend 10 seats in states that Trump won. The group endorsed nine senators up for reelection next year.

The group is also eying Democrats’ only two realistic opportunities to flip Senate seats.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) is considered the most vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection, since he hails from a state that Clinton won. He’s also taken heat from both sides of aisle during the healthcare debate, which has found him stuck between Republican activists eager for an ObamaCare repeal and Nevadans, including the state’s Republican governor, who want to preserve Medicaid funding. 

Freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), who won a highly contested House race last year, is gearing up for a Senate run against Heller, though she hasn’t officially announced a bid. Fellow Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) is also considering a campaign. 

EMILY’s List has yet to endorse either candidate and is taking a “serious look” at the race. The group recruited and endorsed Rosen in her House race last year.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is also considered vulnerable, though he’d likely get a tougher challenge in a primary.