Democrats Go All-In for Female Candidates

Posted October 25, 2010 at 5:00am

Democratic women are redoubling their efforts to preserve their numbers in the House and Senate as scores of their colleagues appear increasingly endangered.

Of the 54 Democratic women who the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says are running for re-election to the House, at least a dozen face tough battles for another term.

In the Senate, Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) appears headed toward defeat, while Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Patty Murray (Wash.) are narrowly ahead of their GOP challengers.

“Defeating these women is a central part of the Republicans’ plan to gain control of the Senate,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who isn’t up for re-election this year, said in a recent fundraising plea.

Female Democratic incumbents on more secure re-election footing are rallying behind their colleagues. “I don’t want to write that obituary yet, because I think there are a number of women who are running really tough and great races,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who traveled to Ohio this week to campaign for Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy and Betty Sutton.

“We’re all working really hard to make sure that we re-elect all of our colleagues, and a lot of the vulnerable freshmen and sophomores are women. They’re in tough districts,” DeGette added.

[IMGCAP(1)]Twenty-one Democratic women were first elected to the House in the 2006 and 2008 cycles, and a record 73 served in the chamber in the 111th Congress. A GOP wave would not only threaten the party’s control of the House, but also could drastically diminish the number of females in the Democratic Caucus.

Among the most endangered this cycle are Reps. Kilroy, Betsy Markey (Colo.), Debbie Halvorson (Ill.) and Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.). Others, such as Reps. Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.) and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.), are locked in dead heats with their GOP challengers. Nine women are part of the DCCC’s Frontline program for the party’s most endangered incumbents.

Safe female Members are making campaign stops, fundraising pleas and national appearances to try to hold their numbers in the House. DeGette said that she appears at events with Markey almost weekly and that the two talk almost every day. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) is trying to defend Halvorson, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) continues to give money to female candidates as she fights to retain the majority this cycle. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who serves as vice chairwoman for the DCCC’s incumbent retention program, said she has either visited the districts of every female incumbent or invited them to visit her own.

Given that Pelosi made history just three years ago by becoming the first female Speaker, Schakowsky said the desire among female Members to help their colleagues this year feels even more urgent.

“We’re going to lose some seats among the women in Congress who have done so well,” Schakowsky said. “We’ve proven that women can raise as much money as men can, and we’ll see if they can overcome the millions of dollars being spent against them, which I think has a slight sexist bend.”

Seventeen of the top 100 fundraisers from the previous quarter were women, including Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Republican Kristi Noem, who is running against Herseth Sandlin.

The White House is also ramping up its efforts to help women candidates. First lady Michelle Obama joined Jill Biden and actress Sarah Jessica Parker in New York on Monday to raise money for the Women’s Leadership Forum, which is affiliated with the Democratic National Committee and aims to galvanize female voters. That event and another DNC fundraiser Obama attended that night raised a combined $1 million, according to a DNC official.

Obama also traveled to the West Coast last week for separate appearances with Boxer and Murray. The administration also recently released an economic report on how Democratic policies have helped women.

Republicans are running 32 female candidates this cycle, but Democratic strategists are trying to portray Republicans in general as threatening women’s issues. Pelosi warned in an e-mail for EMILY’s List that Republicans will “turn back all of our progress for women and children.” Stabenow declared in another fundraising plea, “Defeating these women is a central part of the Republicans’ plan to gain control of the Senate.”

Democrats are also trying to go after GOP candidates on issues related to gender. They have pounced on Tom Ganley, who is running against Sutton in Ohio, following the recent filing of a lawsuit accusing him of sexually assaulting a woman. They have also tried to demonize Scott DesJarlais, who is running against Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis in Tennessee, by using divorce documents to cast him as dangerous and unstable.

“It’s important to point out that all of these women have opponents who have shocking records,” Wasserman Schultz said in an interview. “It’s important that the contrast be drawn for voters so they know they have a real choice.”