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Best and Worst of Times at EMILY's List

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock acknowledged that her group is going to be outspent by Republican super PACs in the lead-up to the November elections.

“Women are a very important part of Democratic victories,” said Rep. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), who is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s recruitment chairwoman. “But this year, in particular, there is such a sharp contrast on where Republicans stand on issues of importance to women. … That could well make the difference in this election.”

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake concurs that women will tip the balance in 2012 — but she said they could tilt either way. Despite a gender gap that has historically favored Democrats, female voters sided with Republicans by 1 point in 2010, according to Lake’s research. That election was also the first election since 1978 that saw a decline in female representation in the House; only one woman was elected to the Senate.

“In general, women voters will be the undecided voters,” Lake said, adding that the economy remains paramount. “They’re leaning Democratic, but they are still up for grabs.”

Republicans, too, are fielding a strong crop of female candidates, GOP organizers said, including four running for Senate. The notion that issues such as contraception will drive female voters is exaggerated, said Julie Conway, executive director of View PAC, which backs Republican female candidates.

“Women care about taxes, women care about health care,” Conway said. “Women care about all the same issues men care about.”

EMILY’s List’s traditional fundraising model, which was built largely on “bundling” low-dollar contributions on behalf of female candidates, also presents challenges for the group in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling to deregulate political spending. In 2002, according to the CRP, EMILY’s List was the top-grossing PAC, with $22.7 million in receipts.

But the group’s PAC receipts this year, along with the $1.3 million the group has raised for its Women Vote! super PAC, pale next to the tens of millions of dollars raised by a long list of GOP-friendly super PACs, who in this election have dramatically outraised their Democratic counterparts. Among super PACs, EMILY’s List ranks 25th in receipts, according to Political MoneyLine.

Schriock has responded by leveraging the group’s longtime knack for organizing and coordinating progressive groups. The group takes credit for beating back a challenge in the previous election to Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in part by coordinating a $4 million campaign of outside spending alongside labor and environmental groups.

This year, EMILY’s List partnered with the Service Employees International Union and the Democratic-friendly House Majority PAC to help Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici win a special election in Oregon. EMILY’s List has also teamed up with Majority PAC and other Democratic-friendly super PACs to spend $1 million defending Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) against an onslaught of $6 million in spending by conservative outside groups.

“EMILY’s List and our partners in the party need to make sure that women are mobilized, that they have the information they need and that they get to the polls,” Schriock said. “We’re going to have to do that underneath a tsunami of misinformation that is going to be coming from untold sources of Republican money. We’ve never seen an election like this.”

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