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Roll Call

Female Lawmakers Are Raising Money and the Political Stakes

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand impressed Democrats and Republicans with her Sunday appearance on "Meet the Press." She is one of a handful of Democratic women who have been raising money for the party.

While both parties fight to win over female voters, female lawmakers have emerged as the top fighters to secure all-important fundraising and messaging wins.

Women’s issues have been at the forefront of many recent contentious, political debates, from contraception to whether stay-at-home or working moms better understand the economy. But while the television talking heads deliberate, female candidates are trying to dominate, traveling all over the country, headlining high-ticket fundraisers and bringing in historic first quarter totals that would make even their most secure male counterparts blush.

Senate Democrats, especially, have been able to establish some political leverage with their slate of female incumbents and challengers.

In the first quarter of 2012 alone, Senate Democratic incumbents Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) raised $2.3 million, $1 million and $1.5 million respectively. Candidates Elizabeth Warren, running in Massachusetts; Tammy Baldwin, seeking a seat in Wisconsin; and Mazie Hirono, running in Hawaii, raised $6.9 million, $2 million and more than $1 million, respectively.

“It’s been a major advantage for Democrats this cycle to have this many great women candidates,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter. “They’ve not only been effective fundraisers, but they’ve also been very effective messengers for their own campaigns and for the Democratic message. It has helped unite the party and generated a lot of enthusiasm for Democratic efforts to keep the Senate.”

And it’s a model Republicans hope to emulate. GOP sources indicate that Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), for example, is one of the most in-demand lawmakers other politicians would like with them on the trail. Earlier this year, she boosted the efforts of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the all-important primary state of New Hampshire. Ayotte also has been generous in terms of giving to fellow Republicans in targeted Senate races.

But to date, Democrats have been much more organized in their plans to get women on the trail, in front of the cameras, and perhaps most important, appealing to donors’ checkbooks.

From March 9 to March 10, the DSCC organized four West Coast fundraisers touting female candidates under a joint fundraising committee known as “Women On the Road to the Senate: 12 and Counting.”

The swing included a lunch in Denver, a dinner in Los Angeles, a brunch in San Francisco and a dinner in Seattle — the largest city in DSCC Chairwoman Patty Murray’s home state.

An invitation to the San Francisco brunch, obtained by Roll Call, said that the event was paid for by “Women On the Road to the Senate: 12 and Counting,” a joint fundraising committee authorized by the DSCC and the campaigns of McCaskill, Stabenow and Klobuchar, as well as Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Maria Cantwell (Wash.). The campaigns of Warren, Baldwin, North Dakota candidate Heidi Heitkamp and Rep. Shelley Berkley (Nev.) are also part of the fundraising committee.

“With job creation, education, health care, immigration and the environment at stake this election, please join us in supporting the Democratic women who are fighting to preserve these issues,” the invitation read. “Your attendance at this historic event is critical in helping the exceptional women who are running in key races this fall. The event is part of a four-city fly-around sponsored in part by the Women’s Senate Network and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.”

The swing also engaged top-level donors. The San Francisco event alone included honorary co-chairmen Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, and Jack Dorsey, creator of Twitter. The chairmen for the brunch included Susie Tompkins Buell, a key West Coast fundraiser for Hillary Rodham Clinton, and leading Bay Area lawyer Joe Cotchett.

On the messaging front, Senate Democratic sources indicated that Gillibrand is being primed for a larger surrogate role, and she impressed Democrats and Republicans alike with her Sunday appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Former Bush administration official and GOP strategist Tony Fratto, for example, tweeted after the New York Democrat’s appearance Sunday: “Whatever your politics, [Gillibrand] is a very effective voice for [Democrats] (& not just on ‘women’s issues’).”

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