Balancing legislative responsibilities with running for Senate is challenging enough — throw in a few softballs and the juggling gets more intense.
For some female lawmakers set to take the field for the seventh annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game who have to also balance a competitive campaign, the camaraderie of the annual event makes the grueling schedule worth it.
“Softball has become really important to me, [and] I think all of us who play, because it’s such a wonderful way for us to get to know our colleagues,” Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., said in a recent phone interview.
The game brings together Democrats and Republicans, members of the House and Senate, in the annual faceoff against female journalists and benefits the Young Survival Coalition, a non-profit focused on young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Edwards is in a tough Democratic primary fight for a Maryland Senate seat. She faces a big funding deficit compared to fellow Senate candidate Rep. Chris Van Hollen and other high-profile Democrats have said they're looking at the race.
Edwards is one of two players in a Senate race. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., is running for re-election in 2016.
A teammate from last year who's notably absent from this year’s roster is Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., who launched a Senate bid against incumbent GOP Sen. John McCain in May. But the Senate campaign wasn't a factor in her decision not to play this year.
"Ann had a great time being the 'Rudy' of last year's team," Kirkpartrick spokesman D.B. Mitchell wrote in an email, "but this year her spare time is consumed by an exciting new role: becoming a grandmother."
Edwards leaves home at 6:15 a.m. to get to practice at the Watkins Recreation Center in Southeast D.C. by 7 a.m., bringing along a change of clothes, her makeup and a curling iron. She gives herself a half hour to get cleaned up and ready after practice. The Maryland Democrat has played in every game since the first one in 2009, and she has honed her routine for balancing practice with congressional duties.
“It gives me an energy that I’m going to need for the entire day,” Edwards said of the early morning practices. And the additional campaign duties she's taken on to run for Senate? “It wasn’t hard at all,” she said.
Early mornings are a prime time for fundraising breakfasts, but Edwards said the hourlong practices two or three times a week do not keep her from campaign duties, noting breakfasts usually start around 8:30 a.m.
Edwards jumped into the race after Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., the longest serving woman in Congress, announced in March that she was retiring — about a month into softball practices. Edwards took to heart lessons from a Republican teammate who was making the leap from the House to the Senate in 2014 and decided to stay on the team.
“You know how I learned was with Shelley Moore Capito last year,” Edwards said. “She made most of the practices that she could.”
Capito, a West Virginia Republican, remained on the softball roster while competing in one of the more hotly contested races of 2014. That created some tension on the team, but her teammates watched her strike a balance between legislating, campaigning and playing.
“The practices are early in the morning so if you need to go to a breakfast you can get up, do a little practice and hit the breakfast,” Capito recently told CQ Roll Call. “I personally like the camaraderie, but the physical fitness of it is [also] what I like. And I would get up extra early and run with the coaches. So I was able to fit it in. It’s a matter of what you like to do.”
Capito, Edwards and the 17 other members of Congress will face the members of the Fourth Estate Wednesday at the Watkins Recreation Center. The lawmakers will be defending last year’s 10-5 victory over the journalists.
Despite being able to balance campaigning, legislating and practicing this year, Edwards did not say whether she would be back for next year’s game. Practices would start just a few months before the hotly contested April primary, when the campaigns would be kicking into high gear.
“Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it,” she said.
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