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‘Fed up’ women voters are preparing to run for political office

The Hill: ‘Fed up’ women voters are preparing to run for political office

By Lisa Hagen

The head of an influential group that aims to elect female candidates says "women voters who are fed up, angry and want change" are changing the political dynamic ahead of the crucial midterm elections. 

Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY’s List, told The Hill she’s seeing unprecedented political engagement from women that started with the Women’s March in response to President Trump’s inauguration.

Schriock also said she believes women getting into politics are being galvanized by the allegations of sexual harassment and assault by powerful men that have embroiled some lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“These women marched, they went home, they organized, they felt that they weren’t alone,” Schriock said in an exclusive interview with The Hill.

More than 22,000 women have reached out to the group about running for office next year and about half of those are under the age of 45. They represent all 50 states. EMILY’s List has so far this cycle held more than 20 trainings across the U.S. that are structured to help them prepare and launch bids.

“I believe that #MeToo is coming out of all of this moment," Schriock added.

After the wave of sexual assault and harassment allegations against producer and Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein, women started sharing their own stories of dealing with sexual harassment through the “Me Too” social media campaign.

“So whether it’s #MeToo or coming to EMILY’s List to run for office or organizing in their local communities ... I think this is all coming together that women are standing by each other and realizing that we've got to take our future in our hands for our communities and our country," Schriock said.

The Weinstein stories set off a cascade of allegations that have roiled the media and entertainment industries. Now, the political world and Washington are facing a similar reckoning as both parties grapple with the fallout.

Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore was accused earlier this month of initiating a sexual encounter with a minor in 1979, when he was 32, throwing a curveball into the Dec. 12 special election. And on Capitol Hill, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was accused of groping and forcibly kissing a radio news anchor in 2006, while Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) reportedly settled a wrongful dismissal settlement after a former staffer claimed she was fired for resisting his sexual advances.

Members on both sides of the aisle have called on Moore to withdraw from the race and some Republicans have even floated expulsion if he wins. But most lawmakers haven’t demanded that Franken or Conyers step down, though many have called for an ethics probe into both.

Schriock said these allegations are a cultural problem that must be immediately addressed. But when asked if Franken should step aside, she said that the Senate Ethics Committee process should play out first.

“Obviously any sort of harassment, discrimination, unfit environment for work is inappropriate and unacceptable and that needs to be dealt with,” Schriock said in the interview prior to allegations levied against Conyers. She was Franken’s campaign manager in 2008.

“For Sen. Franken, he’s in a place where there actually is a process in that Ethics Committee," she said. "At the end of the day, he’s going to have to make that decision of what’s best.”

Even before the rampant allegations of sexual harassment encouraged more women to speak out, EMILY’s List was seeing a rise in enthusiasm from women interested in politics and wanting to run for office.

“The empowerment women are feeling across the country to take charge, to make sure their voices are heard, this is the next decade of candidates for us,” Schriock said.

Schriock also touted women’s pivotal role in the recent string of Democratic victories across the U.S. in early November. Democrats won local races coast-to-coast, held onto the governor’s mansion in Virginia after a tough battle and nearly flipped Virginia’s House of Delegates.

Her group got heavily involved in races across the country, particularly in Virginia at the legislative level. Of the 15 delegate races that Democrats flipped, EMILY’s List endorsed 11 of those candidates. Another one of their candidates is still locked in a recount battle.

For Schriock, the victories were evidence that women are enthusiastic about politics and helping to drive turnout in favor of Democrats. She noted that women, particularly African-American women, came out in strong numbers during the November elections.

“Because of women voters who are fed up, angry and want change, we were able to change the dynamics,” she said. “It was a realignment in those districts led by women voters and college-educated [voters].”

Those victories give Schriock even more hope for another huge night in 2018.

Democrats are looking to flip 24 seats to take back the House majority. While a tall order, they are feeling confident about their prospects given Trump’s unpopularity and their double-digit lead in the House generic ballot.

EMILY’s List has launched 70 female candidates in 48 House races across the country and the group is currently targeting 87 House seats. Schriock noted that, despite earlier electoral successes, her group is far from done and is focusing on recruitment and re-examining possible swing-vote suburban and exurban districts.

On the Senate side, Schriock said the group will be mostly focused on four races: Democrats’ two most realistic offensive opportunities in Nevada and Arizona, and on the defense side, Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). They represent two of the 10 Senate seats that Trump carried in 2016, which is why capturing the majority there will be a much heavier lift.

Schriock said her group will also keep an eye on Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), another state where Trump narrowly won, and plans to help out Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) if she needs it, given the number of primary challengers running to the senator's left.

The downside to the newfound momentum is the crowded primary dilemma that Democrats face.

Schriock said her group is having to make some tough choices regarding endorsements when more than one of their candidates are running in the same district.

And in previous cycles, contested primaries have pitted EMILY’s List against the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), House Democrats' campaign arm, when backing different candidates.

But Schriock stressed that the two groups work together well and of the DCCC’s 11 candidates in their “Red to Blue” program — a list that highlights candidates in some of their top targets — six are endorsed by EMILY’s List.

While they still need to navigate crowded primaries, Schriock is confident that a combination of qualified candidates, voter enthusiasm and EMILY’s List support for these races will bode well for Democrats in 2018.

“I think that sets us up really well to pick up the House majority next year,” Schriock said.