March spurs efforts to get more women to run for office

Posted at 11:52 PM, Jan 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-23 23:52:02-05
An artist from Savannah, Georgia created these signs seen at the Women's March on Washington.

An artist from Savannah, Georgia created these signs seen at the Women’s March on Washington.

WASHINGTON — First they marched. Now, Democratic organizers are telling the scores of women who turned out to oppose President Donald Trump over the weekend, it’s time to run — for something.

The massive turnout in Washington and across the country at women’s marches Saturday stunned even the most optimistic liberals — injecting an energy into their cause that many accused the Hillary Clinton campaign of lacking.

But it is also forcing Democrats to rapidly find ways to channel that energy into a sustained movement before the moment is lost.

One way several groups are attempting to do that: recruit the women who participated Saturday to run for office — from school boards and city councils to Congress.

Emily’s List, which helps train and fund female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, hosted 500 women for a day-long training session Sunday — with nearly 500 more on its waiting list.

“I’m confident I talked to a future United States senator. I just may not know who it is yet,” Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, said in an interview Monday.

One of those candidates is Bella Stenvall, an 18-year-old from California who is interning on Capitol Hill for Rep. Salud Carbajal. She said she’d like to run for local office at home one day.

Marchers waiting to board the D.C. metro to participate in the Women's March on Washington.

Marchers waiting to board the D.C. metro to participate in the Women’s March on Washington.

Her mother moved to the United States from the Philippines at age 18, so “the opportunities I have in America were always stressed to me very strongly,” she said — one of the reasons she signed up for the Emily’s List training.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric was infuriating, she said, and his victory was “a firm call to action.”

“All of a sudden, it’s real,” she said. “None of us saw this coming. It was genuine shock.”

The message of Sunday’s training session, Schriock and Stenvall said, was that women who participated in Saturday’s marches already have the most important quality they need to run for office.

“We have to start by reminding each and every one of them that the most important thing is a commitment to make some change — a true desire to help your community. That is the most important piece,” Schriock said.

“We so often hear from our women who are getting trained — they’ll list off things like, ‘I don’t have enough experience, I don’t have that law degree, I don’t have connections to really wealthy people.’ What we do is say, none of that matters. That’s actually nothing that you need,” she said.

Post-election surge

Other organizations that help women run for office — some nonpartisan — are also reporting upticks.

VoteRunLead has trained 5,000 women to run for office over a two-year period — but 2,300 of those came in the two months since Trump’s election.

“Something switched,” said the group’s founder, Erin Vilardi.

Similarly, the Center for American Women and Politics, which is part of Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, saw increased enrollment in their seminars, according to the group’s director, Debbie Walsh.

The group holds an annual training program in March. Two years ago, four people had registered by January 1. Last year, there were two. However, this year, by New Year’s Day, more than 100 had registered and paid in full.

Walsh said the influx her group has seen wasn’t an anomaly — partner programs across the country have seen a similar trend.

“People are seeing the consequences of elections and that they really matter and that’s where we’re seeing the upsurge in women,” Walsh said.

Campaign veterans start recruiting

Stung by the depth of Democrats’ problems that were laid bare after Clinton’s loss, Democrats hope to use the anti-Trump energy to begin rebuilding the party’s empty bench.

A new group called “Run for Something” — launched by Democratic operatives Amanda Litman and Ross Morales Rocketto, with a board made of veterans of the Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns — is seeking to recruit and train progressives under 35 for races for city councils, state legislatures and more.

In the group’s first 72 hours, more than 400 people reached out, expressing interest, Litman said.

Those include “a lot of people who haven’t thought about public service before this particular moment; a lot of people who say, ‘I’m frustrated and angry that my community and my politicians won’t represent me anymore,’ ” she said.

The mix of those expressing interests, she said, is split evenly between men and women, includes many African-Americans, members of the LGBT community, immigrants and “quite a few veterans.”

The group is looking for people who don’t already have inroads into politics. It has a network of more than 200 Democratic operatives who have offered to help prospective candidates — guiding them through launching candidacies, raising money and more.

It’s eyeing 2017 municipal races and contests for Virginia House of Delegates seats.

“The reason why the focus on some of these down-ballot races is so critical is that these are the individuals whoa re going to be future congress people, future senators, future governors, future attorneys general,” said Morales Rocketto. “These are the individuals who 10, 15, 20 years from now are going to be essentially running the country.”

Donor, activist energy

Beyond potential candidates for office, Democratic groups say they are seeing a major influx of new donors and supporters.

Emily’s List said 60% of its donors in the week after the presidential election had never contributed before. The group has doubled the number of people who are online monthly donors since then. And 3,300 have reached out to express interest in running for office — including 860 since Trump’s inauguration Friday.

The official Democratic infrastructure is benefiting, too.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the campaign arm for the party’s House candidates — has already had its best-ever January for digital fundraising, and has seen its list of grassroots supporters grow by 500,000 people in 2017 so far.

Now, the DCCC and other Democratic groups are rapidly hashing out strategies to channel the sudden energy toward the 2018 midterms — not the 2020 presidential race.

“We will focus on educating voters on the importance of the midterms, to get people to turn that emotion into electoral success as soon as possible,” said DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly.

Can Democrats sustain the momentum?

The seven candidates seeking to lead the Democratic National Committee spent Saturday in Florida at a donor summit organized by David Brock that was largely focused on the party’s failings in 2016.

They quickly realized they were missing a major moment.

Back at home, the family of former Labor Secretary Tom Perez — one of the DNC chair candidates — was cramming 10 visitors in town for the march into their house.

It took Perez — who said he was “frankly very conflicted” about missing the marches in the first place — multiple runs to Union Station to drop all his visitors off as they departed Sunday.

Perez said beyond Trump’s moves on health care and home mortgages and his wealthy Cabinet appointments, Americans already miss the “grace” and “integrity” of President Barack Obama’s tenure in office — and that “there have been more integrity breaches since this election by Trump than any president I can think of.”

“That’s why you see America waking up — and America is going to stay awake,” he said.

Another candidate for DNC chair, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, said he got a call from his niece, a senior at Emerson College in Boston, who he’d not been able to get involved in the 2016 race — but who told him by phone Saturday she was inspired by the marches.

He said the Democratic Party “must support and partner with the energetic activists we saw — not just ever so often, but 365 days a year.”

“We are stronger,” Ellison said, “when voters know that our party stands for the human rights and dignity that were highlighted during the marches.”