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Wall Street Journal: Election Results Brought New Highs and Lows for Women’s Groups

November 11, 2016

Wall Street Journal: Election Results Brought New Highs and Lows for Women’s Groups

By Louise Radnofsky

For groups seeking to elect female candidates to office, it’s been a single week of historic highs and historic lows.

Emily’s List, a group that recruits and funds Democratic women who support abortion rights, invested heavily in the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and felt a devastating loss on Tuesday night. Top figures in the group had worked on Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 bid, waited since then for her return, and believed for several hours after results started coming in that it might not be over for her.

At the same time that state results suggested Mrs. Clinton’s odds of victory were slimming, the group was firing out press releases for wins for many of the slate of congressional candidates they had backed.

Right at the start of Tuesday evening, Tammy Duckworth took the Illinois Senate seat from sitting Republican Mark Kirk. It was a pick-up, a new woman elected, and a woman of color in a year the organization was especially proud of its effort. In one win, for Thai-American Ms. Duckworth, they had doubled the number of minority women in the Senate.

Shortly before midnight, a roar from the group’s war room drew staffers racing to hear the news. It was a win for Democratic candidate Catherine Cortez Masto to fill the seat of departing Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid in Nevada. With confirmation of victory for Kamala Harris to fill the seat of departing Democrat Barbara Boxer in California, the number of women of color in the upper chamber quadrupled.

“I don’t have the perfect words tonight to tell you how to feel or what this means,” the Emily’s List Executive Director Jessica O’Connell had told staffers around 2 a.m. on Wednesday, when it became clear that Mrs. Clinton had lost, but had yet to give her concession speech.

“I can tell you we have elected some women who are going to stand and fight. And we are going to have their back and we are going to send them reinforcements… Tammy, Kamala, Catherine, that Senate, we just transformed it… Our House ladies, it’s incredible. Those ladies are rock stars. And tonight, this presidential election, does not change that.”

In all, there will be a record 21 women in the next Senate. The number is inching up from 20 because of Ms. Duckworth’s and Ms. Cortez Masto’s wins, offsetting the departure of one of Emily’s List’s earliest candidates, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who is retiring this year after serving since 1987 and will be replaced by a male Democrat, Chris Van Hollen.

There’s another side of the coin, of course. Groups that are opposed to abortion also try to elect female candidates to office, believing they are their most effective messengers. This year, they have had big wins for their cause, but all of them carried by male candidates including president-elect Donald Trump, with whom they have had a tumultuous relationship, and vice president-elect Mike Pence, whom they have long considered their champion.

“Our mission is always going to be about pro-life first,” said Mallory Quigley, communications director for Susan B. Anthony List, a women-led group that seeks to elect abortion opponents to federal office. “We are looking for messengers regardless of gender.”

Susan B. Anthony List hit 1.6 million doors in four states, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio, hoping to aid a Trump-Pence ticket and defend the incumbent Republican senators there, Marco Rubio, Roy Blunt, Richard Burr and Rob Portman.

They were successful in all four. It was the female senator they had also fundraised and done online get-out-the-vote work for, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, who conceded her race to Emily’s List-backed Maggie Hassan on Wednesday.