McKenna’s love for the city showed, and she (and her mother) attended the Institute of Notre Dame, the all-girls Catholic high school where Dixon’s daughter attended. McKenna’s mom attended with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“Martha pulled all the components together,” Dixon recalled. “She brought clarity and took it to a whole new level.” Dixon won the eight-candidate primary with 63 percent and the general election to become the first woman ever elected mayor of Baltimore.
On election night, Dixon remembers sharing tears of joy with McKenna in the backroom of the Kasbah, in the same Canton neighborhood where McKenna still lives with her husband.
It didn’t take long for D.C. to come calling again.
In the middle of the 2008 cycle, then-Political Director Guy Cecil left the DSCC to try to resuscitate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.
“He betrayed me, but I got the last laugh,” longtime DSCC Executive Director J.B. Poersch joked. Needing to “hire someone in a pinch,” McKenna was the first and only person Poersch talked to because he was confident she was the one.
“You do your job when you’re straight with people,” Poersch said. “Martha always told it straight.”
It might have been easier to be straight with people in 2008, when Democrats expanded their majority by eight seats, but Poersch and McKenna stayed at the DSCC for 2010, when the political environment shifted and the party lost six seats and the special election to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy in Massachusetts.
Her new role this cycle is a natural nexus for McKenna. Logistically, she’ll be managing teams of consultants in a dozen races across the country, but she has that personal connection as well.
McKenna is defending a class of Senators that includes Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), whom she helped get elected via her role at EMILY’s List, while also trying to help a new batch of women get elected for the first time.
“That’s what she’s always been about: electing women and electing Democrats every step of the way,” said veteran Democratic strategist Mary Beth Cahill, who was executive director at EMILY’s List during part of McKenna’s tenure.
With just eight months to go, the national landscape is still unclear, but Democrats are defending more seats and the threat of well-funded Republican outside groups is real. But anyone who’s worked with Martha doesn’t think that will be a problem.
“Martha taught me a lot about being fearless,” Jordan said. “I had a reputation for being fearless, but I wasn’t as fearless as Martha McKenna.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., walks on Broadway after a Future Forum with young entrepreneurs in the Flatiron District of New York City, April 16, 2015. Reps. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., also attended.