By Joe Garofoli
San Francisco Chronicle
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In the 2016 election cycle, about 900 women contacted Emily’s List, which for 30 years has been training and raising money for female Democratic candidates who favor abortion rights, to express an interest in running for office. Since Trump’s inauguration, 13,000 have contacted the group.
San Francisco Chronicle
The timing seemed politically perfect.
Last fall, Buffy Wicks, a self-described career “organizer, activist and agitator” who was running Hillary Clinton’s campaign in California, was scheduled to give birth to her first child — a girl — on election day, when she expected America to elect its first female president.
Wicks delivered on her part of the deal, although a couple of weeks late. That gave her extra time for deep soul-searching after Clinton’s loss. Sure, the Oakland resident had a fulfilling job waiting for her after the campaign, but she found Donald Trump’s election so shocking that she wanted more.
“I needed to do something,” Wicks said. “I need to pour my heart and soul into something.”
It is something that many Democratic women have been saying for months. In the 2016 election cycle, about 900 women contacted Emily’s List, which for 30 years has been training and raising money for female Democratic candidates who favor abortion rights, to express an interest in running for office. Since Trump’s inauguration, 13,000 have contacted the group.
Now some — like Wicks, 39 — are taking that initial interest a step further.
Last month, she announced her campaign to run for the East Bay 15th Assembly District seat that fellow Democrat Tony Thurmond is vacating next year to run for state superintendent of public instruction.
Until recently, running for office wasn’t something Wicks considered — not when she led Barack Obama’s California field operations in 2007 and not when she served in the White House, helping to rally support for Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Other first-time female candidates are stepping up, too. Katie Porter, a consumer advocate attorney and UC Irvine professor, announced Friday that she has raised $310,000 in the past three months to take on incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Irvine, and has landed endorsements from U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
In California’s Fourth Congressional District, which spans 10 inland counties from north of Sacramento to near Fresno, Jessica Morse is one of four first-time female candidates (and one man) who have lined up to challenge five-term GOP Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove (Sacramento County) in a district where Republicans hold a double-digit edge in registration and that Trump carried in November.
“If not me, who? And if not now, when?” said Morse, 35, a former State Department employee who spent time in Iraq during the war a decade ago. “What is there to be afraid of? I’ve been to Iraq.”
It’s too early to tell how big a jump in the number of women running for office we might see — most candidate filing deadlines aren’t until early next year — but early signs are that one is taking shape.
In the past six months, there has been a boom in the number of women — particularly Democratic women — engaging in activism, according to a June survey of college-educated voters by American University/Loyola Marymount/Politico. The survey found that “except for donating to a candidate or cause, female Democrats participated at higher rates than male Democrats did,” doing things like joining a political interest group or talking about politics on social media.
Much of that energy comes from a deep dislike of Trump and his policies.
“But it’s not just about Donald Trump’s victory, it is Hillary Clinton’s loss and what that says about where we are as women in this country,” Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock said prospective candidates have told her over the past few months.
However, that same survey showed that even though Democratic women say they want to do something — contact a legislator, march in a protest — to oppose Trump, that something often doesn’t include running for office.
“Donald Trump may be planting a seed for women who want to run,” said Jennifer Lawless, a professor of government at American University who co-wrote the survey and has studied the issue for two decades. “But that seed doesn’t bloom in five minutes.”
Instead, Lawless predicted that the first wave of first-time candidates will be like Wicks, Porter and Morse — women who “grew up in the political world,” she said.
Take Wicks. She’s not only spoken on behalf of Obama and Clinton while on the campaign trail, but she’s likely to be more skilled at designing her own grassroots campaign operation than most professional consultants would be.
While other first-time candidates might wilt after several nights of gripping and grinning with voters at a campaign house party, Wicks has done it for more than a decade.
“Put me in a room full of voters, and I’m happy as a clam,” she said.
Some reasons women have traditionally given for not running are melting away. For years research has shown that some women don’t run because they were not encouraged by a teacher or professional associate as often as men were.
Wicks didn’t have that problem. She asked former top Obama campaign leaders like Ben LaBolt and Jeremy Bird for advice. All gave her the green light to run. A bonus: Given Wicks’ popularity among the vast network of Obama veterans in California, raising the $800,000-plus it will take for the campaign shouldn’t be a problem.
In the past, potential female candidates have told researchers they were hesitant to run — even if they had similar credentials to a male candidate — because they felt they had to be almost perfect to be taken seriously.
“Nobody asked me, and some discouraged me,” Morse said. One prominent Democrat in her district, whom she declined to name, told Morse that if she ran, “you’d get crushed because you’re a young woman.”
“I’ve always been either the only woman in the room or the youngest by 30 years,” Morse said. “Whenever people have told me that I can’t do something, I just say, ‘Watch me.'”
That type of moxie will be needed because the number of females in Congress and the California Legislature declined this year. However, the number of women elected to city councils and county boards of supervisors increased in 2016, according to draft report on female officeholders by California Women Lead, a nonpartisan group.
Several left-leaning national and state groups are ramping up their efforts to take advantage of this anti-Trump sentiment and elect more women. But Rachel Michelin, CEO of Women Lead, wants to tap the breaks on some of those expectations.
Instead of running for Congress, she suggested that some first-time candidates run for a lower office — like school board or city council — where they can build a base of support and practice fundraising before taking on an entrenched incumbent.
She’s thinking about the future. While male candidates often run for office several times before winning, research has shown that first-time female candidates are less likely to run again if they lose, she said.
Regardless of how many women run for office next year, Schriock envisions that many of those who have contacted her since January will run at some point.
“For most of our 30 years, our biggest challenge (at Emily’s List) was getting women to say ‘Yes I want to run,'” Schriock said. “Now they’re asking, ‘How do I do it?'”