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Latest EMILY’s List Picks Face Big Challenges

On Friday, EMILY’s List, which seeks to recruit pro-choice Democratic female candidates and support their campaigns, announced two more Senate endorsements: Roxanne Conlin in Iowa and Elaine Marshall in North Carolina.

Democrats are on the defensive nationally and looking for opportunities to put GOP-held House and Senate seats into play, and that also applies to EMILY’s List, which finds itself defending many of its allies rather than growing the number of pro-choice Democratic women. So, when seen in that light, the Conlin and Marshall endorsements make some sense.

Still, both Conlin and Marshall look like bad bets to me in a year when Democrats — and EMILY’s List — ought to circle the wagons and devote all of their resources to minimizing the damage rather than diverting resources to long shots.

Yes, voters want “change,” but this election cycle — nationally and in both states — that mood will strongly favor Republicans, since voters are almost certain to see the midterm elections as an opportunity to send a message to President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress.

Conlin’s prospects look pretty bleak against Sen. Chuck Grassley, 76, the five-term Iowa Republican who came to the Senate by ousting Democratic Sen. John Culver in 1980.

Conlin, who turned 66 on Wednesday, served as an Iowa assistant attorney general and as head of the Civil Rights Section of the Iowa Department of Justice before she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as U.S. attorney for the southern district of Iowa in 1977.

The Des Moines attorney was the first female president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (now known as the American Association for Justice), founded the Iowa Women’s Political Caucus and was president of the National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund. She was also the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 1982.

Conlin entered the Senate race late but polished off two lesser opponents in the June 8 primary.

Electability has always been a factor in EMILY’s List decisions of whom to endorse, and that has earned the group considerable credibility among nonpartisan handicappers and journalists. But given the long-shot nature of her Senate candidacy, I can only assume that Conlin’s lengthy record in women’s issues and liberal activism influenced the organization’s decision to endorse the Iowa challenger.

Public polling in the Hawkeye State suggests that Grassley is at or above 50 percent in ballot tests against Conlin, leading the race by 8 to 15 points. Democrats, however, argue that the race is closer than the public polls show.

Grassley’s “favorability” ratings are good, and his favorable-to-unfavorable ratios are better than Conlin’s.

Conlin raised just less than $1.5 million through May 19 (and added another $250,000 of her own), ending the period with just $870,000 in the bank. Grassley, on the other hand, had almost $5.6 million.

With GOP gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad, who beat Conlin in that 1982 gubernatorial contest, favored in November over unpopular Gov. Chet Culver (D), Iowa Democrats face a difficult political environment in the state.

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