August 25, 2016
The Guardian: Women poised to lead Democratic return to power in the Senate
by Megan Carpentier
Female candidates are leading the push for a Democratic return to power in the Senate as Donald Trump’s sagging poll numbers leave the Republican majority under extreme pressure.
Even before Trump became the Republican presidential nominee, Democrats had a decent chance of picking up enough seats to wrest the Senate majority from Mitch McConnell’s hands: they need only four seats if there’s a Democratic president, or five if there’s not.
And in five of the seven states where Democrats have a strong chance of picking up seats, the candidates are women.
There is broad agreement on the states where Democrats have the best chance of picking up seats: Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin and Ohio. In all but the last two, the Democratic candidate is a woman. And in Nevada, minority leader Harry Reid is retiring and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto is neck-and-neck with her Republican opponent, Joe Heck, in the latest poll.
The woman mostly likely heading to the Senate after November’s election is Illinois congresswoman Tammy Duckworth. Few polls have actually been done in the state that elected Barack Obama president twice and the latest conservative poll shows Duckworth and the incumbent senator, Mark Kirk, in a statistical tie. Kirk’s been forced to denounce his initial endorsement of Trump – but Duckworth thinks that the growing support for Hillary Clinton in the state can work in her favor.
“In terms of my gender … I don’t think it’s made as big of a difference” she said, “but it does allow me to connect more with so many more of the female volunteers who are turning up for Hillary, and are there to connect with me.”
“To be on the same ballot with her?” she asked rhetorically. “It’s so historic.”
Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, which promotes and funds pro-choice Democratic candidates – including the six women who could help turn the Senate blue again – noted that the number of women up for election to Senate seats is no accident of history. “We’ve been working for 31 years to elect women,” she said, noting that when Emily’s List was started, there were only two female senators, and both were Republicans.
“We’re planting seeds all the time to build that pipeline of great women to run for office,” she added, pointing out that the organization backed Duckworth in her unsuccessful House campaign in 2006 and Cortez Masto in her successful bid for state attorney general before supporting them in their Senate races.
Emily’s List is also backing Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona, who is giving one-time Republican presidential nominee John McCain the run of his Senate career; Maggie Hassan, the Democratic governor of New Hampshire whose prospects in her race against incumbent Senator Kelly Ayotte are getting a boost by Trump’s unpopularity in the state; Deborah Ross, whose longshot campaign against incumbent Richard Burr looks far more likely to succeed than it did in the pre-Trump days; and Katie McGinty in Pennsylvania, who’s looking to topple incumbent Pat Toomey.
Many of the women are emphasizing that they will bring more than just gender diversity to the Senate: they’ll bring a diversity of perspectives distinct from the long-serving politicians they seek to unseat.
Duckworth, for instance, has been emphasizing not just her military service on the campaign trail, but her family’s descent into poverty from the middle class during her teen years because her father was laid off. “I understand the challenges they’re facing, because I’ve faced them myself,” she said, pointing out that while her opponent has focused on the Iran deal and Syrian refugees, polls show that economic issues resonate more for voters in Illinois.
“They have a senator who’s been wrong on everything that he’s ever said on national security, who’s is focused on that and not on how they’re going to pay their mortgage this month,” she said.
McGinty’s message to voters in Pennsylvania also focuses on her working-class roots. “I grew up in a working family, the ninth of ten kids, and today, I’m a working mom with three daughters,” she said in a statement. “I am running for US Senate to be a voice for working families and ensure they have every opportunity to get ahead.”
But there’s history to be made if these women prevail.
There are currently only 20 women serving in the US Senate – which is still a record number – including New Hampshire’s Ayotte, and retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland (where the Democrat, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, is expected to win) and Barbara Boxer of California (where the current state attorney general, Kamala Harris, is poised to be the second African American woman ever elected to the Senate.) If just two of the women in competitive Senate races win in November, the next Senate will have the largest number of women in the history of the country. If all six prevail, fully 25% of the Senate will be women for the first time.
And, if all six prevail, women will be fully 44% of the 50 Democrats in the Senate (the Democratic caucus currently contains two independents: Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Maine’s Angus King). “Emily’s List has ambitions to get to 50% of the Democratic caucus,” said Schriock. “And maybe a little bit more, to make up for lost time.”