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For the Democratic women’s political action committee EMILY’s List, 2012 looks at first glance like a banner year: Money is pouring in, the group is backing a bumper crop of female candidates, and Republicans have helped thrust women’s issues front and center.
But for all the talk of another “Year of the Woman” such as the one that in 1992 saw a record number of mostly Democratic women elected to Congress, EMILY’s List is facing one of the biggest challenges in its 27-year history. Long a pioneer in the world of big-money fundraising, the group now faces competition from a new generation of well-funded conservative super PACs. Many female voters drifted from Democrats in 2010, and they remain up for grabs.
“We are going to get outspent,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock acknowledged in an interview. “In some races, we could get really outspent in numbers that we have not seen before. I’ve got to believe, though, that if we have enough money to work the program that we have to educate the voters, that we can win these races.”
The group, whose acronym stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast, has raised an impressive $24.3 million for its PAC in this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, ranking it among the top five PACs.
Membership hit 1.5 million last month, a threefold increase since the beginning of 2010, driven in part by a House GOP agenda that Schriock says has sent women flocking to her organization. EMILY’s List backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, and it’s endorsing a record number of candidates this election, Schriock said. These include 10 women running for Senate and close to two dozen running for the House.
House Republicans have sponsored bills that would redefine rape and defund Planned Parenthood and have blocked pay equity legislation, even as controversies erupted over conservative opposition to contraceptive mandates in the 2010 health care law. A turning point for EMILY’s List, Schriock said, was a House hearing on the health care mandate featuring all male witnesses at which Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) famously asked, “Where are the women?”
EMILY’s List quickly spotlighted Maloney’s quote in a cable TV and Internet ad to capitalize on a moment that Schriock likened to the seminal Anita Hill hearings. EMILY’s List has revamped its website, ramped up its use of social media and conducted exhaustive research and focus groups to take the temperature of