Politics

Democratic Women in Congress Launch Campaign to Recruit More Female Candidates

Elect Democratic Women would raise money for pro-choice women in potential swing districts

Lois Frankel, D-Fla, center, shown here with, from left, Reps. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,  will chair a new organization geared toward recruiting pro-choice Democratic women to run for office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A group of female Democratic lawmakers launched an effort Thursday to recruit pro-choice women to run for office, a campaign they tied to efforts to peg 2018 as the second “Year of the Woman.”

Elect Democratic Women will be chaired by Florida Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel and raise money for female candidates within the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committees “Red to Blue” program, which seeks to identify and funnel support to candidates with a strong shot of unseating Republican incumbents.

“Diversity is a cornerstone of our democracy and right now, only 20 percent of Congress is female,” Frankel said. “We need our elected officials to better reflect our country and we can do that by electing more women who will bring different perspectives and experiences, thus making better decisions for American families.”

Other congresswomen behind the project include Reps. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, Julia Brownley and Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, and Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire.

The announcement is the latest sign both parties are seeking to capitalize on a surge in interest from female candidates sparked by the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, the #metoo movement and most recently, the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Those factors have resulted in speculation that the 2018 midterms could see more new female congress members than any year since 1992, when record numbers of women were inspired to run by the way Anita Hill was treated when she accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

Republicans have a group called VIEW PAC dedicated to electing women in the GOP. And New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the first chairwoman of recruitment at the National Republican Congressional Committee, focused this year “pounding the pavement” to look for viable female candidates.

Such efforts have already paid off. Record numbers of women have run for and won, their parties nominations in 2018, with Democratic women faring particularly well in the primary cycle, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. But women are still underrepresented as a proportion of all congressional candidates and nominees. While 51 percent of Americans are female, only one in five Members of Congress are women, a statistic the newly formed Elect Democratic Women pointed out in its press release.

Women who have won offices from both sides of the spectrum have shown interest in supporting future generations of female political leaders, said Kelly Dittmar, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University — Camden and Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics.

“They make the point that not only do they want to be in Congress themselves,” Dittmar said, “but they want to increase the numbers of females in this body in which they are underrepresented.”

Individual women in Congress have previously offered support to candidates through their own leadership PACs, political action committees that can be founded by current and former members to support their colleagues and gain clout within their own party, Dittmar said.

Democratic women have also long had the added support of the fundraising juggernaut EMILY’s list, a political action committee dedicated to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights. There is no Republican equivalent.

Dittmar said the new organization would offer Democratic women in Congress the ability to pool their resources and wield more control over which candidates they support.

Candidates who would receive initial support were singled out in the press release. They include Mikie Sherrill, a Navy pilot running in New Jersey’s 11th District; Lauren Underwood, a nurse running in Illinois’ 14th District and Katie Hill, a non-profit executive running in California’s 25th District.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.