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Despite big gains, women have ‘a long way to go’ in politics, Emily Cain says

Sun Journal: Despite big gains, women have ‘a long way to go’ in politics, Emily Cain says

By Steve Collins

There’s one big reason for a surge of women running for — and often winning — political office in record numbers: Donald Trump.

Even so, Emily Cain, executive director of Emily’s List, is determined to send the Republican president packing next year.

The former state lawmaker from Orono is also eyeing the prospect of installing a lot more pro-choice, Democratic women on Capitol Hill and in state houses.

She told a crowd of 75 at the Muskie Archives at Bates College on Thursday that after last year’s record-setting pace of women coming out on top on Election Day, there is “a new normal” in America that means men will no longer dominate the corridors of power.

Cain, a former state lawmaker from Orono who unsuccessfully sought Maine’s 2nd District congressional seat in 2014 and 2016, said the astonishing success of women at the polls in 2018 “was the start of a sea change.”

Three years ago, the Washington-based political organization she serves thought it was doing great when 920 women signed up for candidate training around the country.

Since Trump’s unexpected victory, she said, more than 45,000 women have expressed interest, with 11 more signing up Wednesday alone, she said.

That newfound enthusiasm for public service, Cain said, is part of the reason that Democrats seized control of the U.S. House and elected to the Congress its first two Muslim women, first two African-American women from New England, first bisexual senator, first two Latina women from Texas, first two Native American women and even the first female governor in Maine history.

It was a victory for women on many levels in many places, so deep and wide that there is no way the country can go back to the era when men ruled and women held only a smattering of seats, she said.

Yet, Cain said, there is “a long way to go.”

She pointed out there are three men for every woman in the U.S. House and that in the entire span of American history, only 56 of nearly 2,000 U.S. senators have been women.

There’s also never been a female president or vice president, Cain said, taking comfort in the prospect that a handful of female candidates for the 2020 race are already out on the hustings.

Cain said Emily’s List is eyeing which races it may be able to influence next year, including Maine’s U.S. Senate contest in which U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a four-term Republican, is expected to seek re-election.

Cain said Emily’s List is already on the ground in Maine trying to recruit a solid contender who can defeat Collins. It’s also eyeing Senate races in Colorado, Iowa and Georgia, she said.

Emily’s List, which started in 1985, began with the premise that “Early Money Is Like Yeast” — hence Emily — because it can make the dough rise. Within a year, it helped elect the first female Democratic senator to win without ties to a man who held the office first, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

It has since racked up considerable success in getting women to run and win. Its membership rolls have grown from a small core group to more than 5 million people providing financial support for its efforts, a political force that has no counterpart on the GOP side.

That’s one big reason, Cain said, that Democrats have seen the number of female lawmakers and governors soar while the number of Republican women has stayed about the same for a decade.

Until Cain came along in 2017, Emily’s List had always filled its leadership ranks with campaign professionals, never someone who had held elected office. It was “a big deal” to break with that tradition, she said, but it worked.

Cain said it’s also “convenient for me that I’m Emily from Emily’s List.”

It helps, too, that she knows what it’s like to find herself in the middle of a long campaign, with its inevitable ups and downs, she said. That makes it possible for her to call female candidates and have credibility when she tells them she knows what they’re facing.

“I can bring the candidate perspective,” Cain said, and offer a pep talk that carries some substance.

“I know how hard it is,” Cain said, so women listen.

For Bates sophomore Elice Grossfeld, Cain’s experience means something, too.

“She is an inspiration,” Grossfeld said, someone who has helped carve out a path for women in politics.

Peggy Rotundo, director of strategic and policy initiatives for Bates’ Harward Center for Community Partnerships, which brought Cain to the college, told Grossfeld and many other young women present that they can run for office.

“You’re all invited to the table,” said Rotundo, a former state lawmaker.