October 25, 2016
Politico: Dem women poised for record gains in Trump backlash
By Edward-Isaac Dovere
The irony is that Donald Trump may result in Democratic women having their best year ever.
In the final two weeks of the 2016 contest, Democrats are casting the GOP nominee’s insult-driven, misogynistic campaign as the embodiment of everything they say the Republican Party gets wrong on women. And their effort looks poised to deliver record-setting results.
It’s not just Hillary Clinton, who would of course be the first female president if she defeats him, or Nancy Pelosi, who has a slim chance of reclaiming the speaker’s gavel if enough Republican seats get sunk by Trump. In many of their most competitive races, Democrats are poised to win House and Senate seats that could easily bring the number of women to new levels in both chambers, along with potentially two female governors winning their first elections.
Even a conservative guess at Democratic gains would push women over the 20 percent mark in the House for the first time ever, notable because the number of Republican women in the House has dropped from a high of 25 after the 2004 elections, while the number of Democratic women has continued to rise. In the Senate, wins could put the number of women at 25 percent, including up to three Democratic women of color in a chamber in which, to date, just two women of color have served.
They’d be coming in amid a national conversation about women and women’s issues that Trump inadvertently jump-started long before that “Access Hollywood” B-roll and the sexual-assault allegations that followed. Karma, these Democrats say, amounts to a spike in women sending more women into office to get more attention to issues that affect women most.
“That would be awesome,” said Terri Bonoff, running for a House seat in Minnesota.
“It would be sweet,” said Catherine Cortez Masto, running for Senate in Nevada.
“A step in the right direction,” said Stephanie Murphy, who’s running for a House seat in Florida.
“A moral rejection,” said Suzanna Shkreli, running for a House seat in Michigan.
More women appear set to win because they’re running Democratic in what’s shaping up to be a Democratic year. But this wasn’t entirely happenstance: Before making her presidential campaign official last year, Clinton brought in Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List — a group founded 30 years ago to support female Democratic candidates — for the first of many conversations about recruiting and promoting other women running in 2016.
“Hillary wanted as many women as we could get to run at this moment in history and really make a statement to break through as many glass ceilings as possible,” Schriock said.
In the year and a half since, Schriock said, “every time she sees me, her first question is: ‘How are the women in the Senate doing?’”
“Hillary believes it’s critical that we have more women in the room where it happens,” said Clinton campaign deputy press secretary Jesse Ferguson.
That conversation began long before Trump calling women “pigs” and bragging about grabbing them became a major theme of the campaign, or before Trump’s labeling Clinton as “such a nasty woman” at last week’s debate became a point of pride. “Get this, Donald: Nasty women are tough, nasty women are smart, and nasty women vote,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Monday in New Hampshire. “We are going to march our nasty feet to cast our nasty votes to get you out of our lives forever."
“Man,” said Schriock, noting that this is the 100th anniversary of her native Montana electing Jeannette Rankin to be the first female member of Congress, “we never thought it was going to look quite like this.”
A Democratic woman will hold the seat of retiring California Sen. Barbara Boxer no matter which presidential candidate wins, while Democratic women are running strong in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire (the only competitive race where the Republican candidate is a woman as well), with improving numbers in the Nevada and North Carolina races and an outside chance in Arizona.
For the House, 21 of the 43 top-tier candidates in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “red to blue” competitive race program are women.
Getting more women elected is one of Pelosi’s stated goals.
“The hard part is money, and incivility. And if you increase the level of civility and lower the role of money, you will get more women,” she said.
Asked what she’d think if Trump helps lead to more women being elected than ever before, Pelosi lit up: “Wonderful!” she said.
Female candidates say they’re hearing about Trump all the time on the trail — from women who’ve encountered sexual harassment in their professional lives to women who’ve been assaulted, and women having a hard time believing Trump when he calls his crude commentary just “locker room talk.”
“This isn’t the first time they’ve been treated inappropriately by a man or have heard inappropriate things said,” Murphy said.
For Bonoff, there was the 70ish woman she passed on the escalator leaving the theater recently who gave her a thumbs-up.
“‘You go, girl,’” Bonoff recalled her saying.
“There’s a sense of camaraderie,” the candidate explained.
Female voters, said Cortez Masto, “are offended, and it’s the first topic of discussion, and it motivates them to get out.”
Before the outrage at Trump boiled over, these female candidates all said, they’d been having trouble getting their arguments to stick against their Republican opponents’ records on women’s issues. Now they and many others around the country are arguing that Trump embodies everything they say the Republican Party gets wrong with women — on reproductive health, paid leave, equal pay and much more.
“There is a set of women’s issues here that he and the rest of his party are so extreme on, that [they are] doing whatever they can not to talk about them,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
That’s become a factor in races for state legislatures too, with more than 90 women who are 35 and younger running — and, overall, more than 1,700 women running — according to counts kept by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the Washington group that oversees those races.
“The presence of Donald Trump at the top of the ticket encouraged many to step forward, and Donald Trump’s horrifying rhetoric and history toward women reminds all of us why electing women to positions of power is so important,” said Carolyn Fiddler, DLCC communications director.
Then there’s a new topic that advocates are hoping Trump has forced the country to grapple with — assault.
“Donald Trump has almost single-handedly re-energized the women’s movement in this country around the issue of sexual assault and rape,” Richards said. “It has really lit a spark that’s going to go on far beyond the election.”
This year’s races have been coming together for years. EMILY’s List has been supporting New Hampshire Senate candidate Maggie Hassan since she was a state senator and helped push her to run for governor. The group has also been boosting Illinois Senate candidate Tammy Duckworth and Arizona Senate candidate Ann Kirkpatrick since their first House races, as well as California Senate candidate Kamala Harris and Cortez Masto since their first attorney general races and North Carolina Senate candidate Deborah Ross since her first state legislature race.
And these Democratic women are hoping that a successful 2016 will help recruit even more women next cycle, as has happened before. “We are electing the third or fourth woman president to a state legislature right now,” Schriock predicted.
So, in a weird way, they’re thankful for Trump and what he’s brought out.
“We’ve seen women across party lines reject Donald Trump’s rhetoric,” said Shkreli, a prosecutor who launched her campaign for Congress only in July but quickly attracted some national attention. “We should breathe a sigh of relief that we can at least agree on that.”