Ellen Malcolm, 63, the Rolodex-reliant founding president of EMILY's List -- which has bundled $78 million in campaign donations since 1985 and helped elect 95 pro-choice Democratic women to the Senate and House -- gave a rousing valedictory Thursday before embracing her successor.
That would be Stephanie Schriock, 37, the tweeting Facebooker who as Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign finance director pushed the Internet envelope to help create donor and social networks that raked in $52 million, and later managed the long-shot victories of Sens. John Tester of Montana and Al Franken of Minnesota.
At a luncheon for more than 1,300 E-Listers (EMILY stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast -- because it makes the "dough" rise), a parade of lawmakers toasted Malcolm, who a quarter-century earlier had gathered 24 other women activists in her basement to devise ways to funnel individual checks to targeted campaigns. EMILY's List later branched out to help recruit candidates for local and state races, run campaigns, and mobilize women voters.
"Twenty-five years ago in 1985, there were no Democratic women in the Senate. Zero. None," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared from the Hilton Washington stage. "There were only 12 Democratic women in the House and none serving as a committee chairs. Today 13 Democratic women are in the U.S. Senate and more to come. There are 59 Democratic women in the House," three of whom run committees. "Women have a seat at the table of power. Women are at the head of the table."
All true. But even counting Republican women lawmakers (including those who are anti-abortion, or do not consider themselves feminists), the total Capitol Hill ratio of estrogen to testosterone in both chambers is about one in six, and this despite the fact that more than half the U.S. population is female.
"It really galls me that women are only 17 percent of the Congress. It's wrong and we will fix it," Malcolm vowed. "It's still true that more than 95 percent of the members of Congress who run will be re-elected. The power of incumbency is still the biggest barrier." EMILY's List candidates, she said, often must wait for open seats to wage viable campaigns.
The result, said Schriock -- who formally took office in January -- is that the U.S. ranks 61st in the world for its percentage of women holding office. "Even Iraq and Afghanistan require that their parliaments be 25 percent women." And while she saluted EMILY's founding mothers for creating this organization with such low-tech tools as Rolodexes, she urged Thursday's audience, which had dutifully turned off all electronic umbilical devices, to fire up the BlackBerrys and iPhones and to text all their friends about joining EMILY and writing checks.
But this group's legacy goes well beyond candidates, Democratic political consultant Mandy Grunwald told me at the luncheon. "EMILY's list didn't just change the number of women in office but the number of women working in campaigns. When I started out in politics, I'd walk into a room with six white men. The only woman was the candidate's wife. And me." A key player in Hillary Clinton's victorious U.S. Senate race, and the respective White House runs of Hillary and Bill Clinton, Grunwald recalled that "the first woman I saw at a meeting who wasn't a wife was Rosa DeLauro, who was running Chris Dodd's Senate campaign" (DeLauro is now in her 10th House term). "EMILY's List changed the face of the people working for the people running."
Minnesota state Sen. Tarryl Clark, who is challenging Republican Rep. Michelle Bachmann, hopes EMILY's List can catapult her to federal office. "In our state senate, we're up to 40 percent women. And I won in a really socially conservative area. We now have a generation of Americans who will always know a time when women had top positions." That includes Bachmann, who won her second term by three points.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, who got EMILY"s list money during her winning race for Kansas governor, called the expansion "a question of the pipeline. We always need more women to run for the legislature. When I ran for governor, Emily's list was just for Congress. Now they have reached down the ballot."
EMILY's List is not the only abortion-centric fundraising/candidate training/campaign/grassroots organizing group in town.
The Susan B. Anthony List endorses and bundles money for pro-life women, as well as for men who run against pro-choice women. It is named for the early 20th-century suffragette who fought for women's right to vote but opposed abortion. On May 14, Sarah Palin will headline the group's Celebration of Life breakfast here, to raise money for candidates and to fire up potential campaign workers.
Both groups know that in politics, as in sports, the deeper the bench, the stronger the team. Today's state senator is often tomorrow's U.S. senator.
Likewise, Schriock -- Senate campaign manager, social networking junkie and presidential finance director -- is primed to expand the size and reach of an organization whose membership she hopes to double by appealing to the younger digirati.
Schriock told the cheering crowd of her first run for office, in high school in Butte, Mont. She had a platform ("let us wear shorts"), media (posters and fliers), a target market (younger students) and a gimmick (she was the only girl running). "I got the sister of my opponent to endorse me and I won. Women do make a difference between winning and losing."
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