Who’s helping women run for office? These groups
If you’re a progressive woman aiming to make a difference in public service, there are a lot of other women willing to help you out.
The 2018 midterm election saw a record number of women run for office. There were 235 women candidates for the House and 22 for the Senate. The winners were lopsided by party: Of the 127 women on Capitol Hill, only 21 are Republicans, and only 13 of those are in the House, down from 22 Republican women in the previous Congress.
Obviously, Democratic women don’t march in lockstep with every aspect of their political views. But they do support policies that help women and American families. In broad terms, they support reining in health care costs, passing common-sense gun laws, and strengthening environmental protections to fight the climate change crisis. They represent a range of women who look more like all of America than ever before. And as research from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation showed, women are as electable as men.
And let’s face it: Compared with their Republican counterparts, they’re way better than the alternative.
Besides the Democratic Party-affiliated groups helping women candidates, there are a growing number of separate groups that help women run for office. Some are old hands that have been around for a few decades, such as EMILY’s List. A few are brand new, such as Matriarch. Some aim to help women of color, such as She the People. and Higher Heights. Some want to help young progressives, both men and women, such as Run For Something. Some are nonpartisan nonprofits that accept tax-deductible donations, and some are strictly political organizations. Many of these groups also work together and support each other.
This is not an all-inclusive list, but it’s aimed at showing the variety of candidate support out there. There are other political action committees and state-level groups. If you’re a woman considering running for anything, from a local school board to a national office, contacting one of these groups can point you in the right direction. They raise money, they train candidates, they offer expertise, and they can provide needed mentoring.
Of course, all of them welcome financial donations, the pitches for which figure prominently on all of their websites. But how else will they get the job done?
The nonpartisan Center for Women and American Politics, established in 1971, is a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. It is considered the source of research and data about the participation of U.S. women in politics. The center regularly updates a list of potential women candidates, either those who have filed or who have indicated an interest in running, for U.S. Congress or statewide elective office. It also has a current Election Watch list of electoral results for women candidates in state contests, all broken down and searchable by state.
There are a lot more of those candidates these days, thanks in part to organizations promoting women candidates. So what are some of these groups, and what exactly do they do?
EMILY’s List. EMILY’s List was founded in 1985 specifically to fund campaigns for pro-choice Democratic women. The “Emily” name is an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast,” and thus “makes the dough rise,” according to the group’s website. Its first winning candidate was Barbara Mikulski, who became the first woman to win a seat in the U.S. Senate in her own right. She served as a Maryland senator from 1987 through her retirement in 2017.
Although EMILY’s List started primarily as a fundraising tool, its mission has grown to focus on recruiting candidates, winning elections, and mobilizing voters. It now boasts 5 million people among its members and supporters. EMILY’s List famously had only 920 women contacts for the 2016 election. It has now been contacted by more than 50,000 women interested in running for office as part of its Run to Win program since then.
She Should Run. She Should Run got started in 2011 but really made a name for itself after the 2016 election, when its fundraising totals went up, finally reaching over $1 million in 2018. It’s a nonpartisan nonprofit that encourages women to run for office. Its website gives its vision and aim: 250,000 women candidates running by 2030. It offers a She Should Run Incubator that offers online courses for potential candidates. The incubator serves as a networking tool and gives directions and resources on how to develop leadership skills.
She the People. She the People points out the obvious: Women of color, specifically black women, are the most dependable Democratic voters, and they want women of color to start using that political muscle. Rather than just promoting candidates, the group aims to have women of color have a bigger part in the conversation and wants Democrats to stop taking their votes for granted. The group, which formed after Donald Trump’s election, wants to enlarge the voting pool of women of color to contain more Asian-American women, Latina women, Muslim women, and indigenous women. Instead of endorsing a candidate in the presidential primaries, She the People held a candidate forum for Democratic presidential hopefuls.
According to the group’s website, women of color are one in four voters in key swing states, and “Over the last decade, when turnout among women of color has been above the national average, Democrats have won. When their turnout is below, Democrats have lost.” In other words, candidates who don’t take their issues seriously do so at their peril.
Higher Heights for America. Higher Heights is another group aimed at capturing and elevating the power of black women and black women voters. Its website describes its purpose: to strengthen black women’s civic participation in grassroots advocacy and the electoral process. Higher Heights was founded in 2011 and will support not only black women candidates but also candidates who are “committed to advance policies that affect black women.” Higher Heights has a related political action committee, Higher Heights PAC, dedicated to electing progressive black women to national and statewide office and as mayors (there are already a record number of black women serving as mayors of major cities in the U.S.).
Emerge America. Since 2002, Emerge America has concentrated on helping to elect women, state by state. Its mission, according to its website, is “to increase the number of Democratic women in public office through recruitment, training, and providing a powerful network.” It has helped to create Democratic legislative majorities in three states, established Democratic supermajorities in three others, and has helped break Republican supermajorities in two battleground states. Emerge offers training in public speaking, media, fundraising, and more. It currently has networks in 29 states.
Run for Something. Run for Something was started on the day of Trump’s inauguration in 2017 for the specific purpose of recruiting young progressives, both men and women, to run for office. Its aim, according to the group’s website, is to “help recruit and support young diverse progressives to run for down-ballot races in order to build a bench for the future.” So far, so good: In 2017 and 2018, Run for Something helped elect more than 200 candidates in 40 states, from state senators to country sheriffs. Fifty-five percent of those winners are women, and half of them are people of color. Besides election support, it offers mentoring and candidate training. Run for Something has been contacted by more than 30,000 people interested in running overall.
“Our candidates come from all walks of life — teachers, doctors, activists, artists, parents, refugees — and they represent communities that have been historically excluded and discouraged from running for political office,” the website says. “Our candidates won because they ran grassroots-powered campaigns focusing on local issues — and we were there to help every step of the way.”
IGNITE. IGNITE is a nonpartisan group aimed at giving political power to young women. It started in 2010 and has local chapters, many on college campuses, registering people to vote and encouraging women to get involved politically. It offers an online guide to running for office in five steps, starting with “Get involved in your community.” It’s website reports that 37 percent of women involved in the group ran for office on their college campuses, and 79 percent of them won.
Matriarch. Matriarch is a new organization and political action committee founded by some three dozen current and former progressive women officeholders and is focused specifically on progressive working women. Its website describes the characteristics of candidates who will receive its backing:
- Little/no personal wealth or access to wealth.
- Platform focused on income inequality, economic, racial, labor, social and environmental justice.
- Working background, which we believe offers a more diverse field of candidates.
- Community support; experience; connection to issues; motivation for running.
A story in The Intercept described Matriarch as “a working-class version of EMILY’s List.” Matriarch vows to back women who focus on economic justice. It only launched in November, and it already has received 1,500 nominations for candidates to back in the 2020 congressional elections. It plans on making its first endorsements in January.
Get Her Elected. Get Her Elected is a group that aims to do just that—get more progressive women elected to office. Its website describes it as a group of volunteers working pro bono to help candidates. Founded in January 2017, it now boasts 3,400 volunteers worldwide. and currently works with over 260 women running for office all over the country. Volunteers come from all 50 states and from outside the U.S., too. Get Her Elected offers professional help that candidates normally would pay for, such as marketing and campaign strategies, graphic design, public speaking coaching, data analysis, and website and social media development.
VoteRunLead. VoteRunLead delivers a simple message on its website: “VoteRunLead trains women to run for office. And win.” The nonprofit group was founded in 2014 and boasts a successful track record for its diverse group of candidates: 70 percent of its first-time candidates won, and 60 percent of its candidates were women of color trained to run for office. It aims for 30,000 candidates in 2020. VoteRunLead offers both in-person and online training, and the website offers digital tools, fundraising tips, and advice on choosing which office to run for. The group has 60 training resources available on its website.
Victory Institute. The Victory Institute concentrates on helping LGBTQ candidates, offering campaign training and holding leadership summits for both men and women. Its website lists a total of 768 LGBTQ elected officials nationwide. Its International Census section is working to locate LGBTQ elected officials around the world. The group first started having LGBTQ Leaders Conferences in 1984 with a handful of attendees. The 2018 conference after the 2018 midterms had more than 500 people attending, with 60 elected officials. The group refers to 2018 as a “rainbow wave,” with 700 LGBTQ people running for office and more than 300 winning.
To learn more about any of these organizations, visit any of these groups’ websites. A 2018 story in Marie Claire magazine described several of these groups in more detail. But any budding woman politico is bound to find that help is available — all she needs to do is start reaching out.
Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 1, 2019.