After 35 Years, EMILY’S List Continues To Transform The Political Landscape For Women

October 27, 2020

Forbes: After 35 Years, EMILY’S List Continues To Transform The Political Landscape For Women; The PAC Is One Week Away From The Fight Of Its Life
By: Allison Norlian

House and Senate races are narrowing across the country. There is just one week until what some are calling the most important election of our lifetime. And so far, polls are showing what could be a continuation of the Blue Wave of 2018. 

As The Cook Political Report moves more and more congressional races towards Democrats, candidates like MJ Hegar, running against a Republican incumbent for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, and Pat Timmons-Goodson, competing in North Carolina's 8th district, are in the fight of their lives. Although the two women candidates are in different states and are vying for different political positions, they have one thing in common: both have the support of EMILY'S List. 

EMILY'S List, a Political Action Committee (PAC) considered the largest resource for women in politics, is celebrating 35 years in existence this year by helping more progressive, Democratic women find their way to elected office. The PAC helps women get elected with their strategic political guidance; by providing teams, coaches, and resources to candidates and financially supporting campaigns. Since EMILY'S List began in 1985, the PAC has become more prominent and robust and has genuinely changed the political landscape. 

The Beginning 

Stephanie Schriock became the president of EMILY'S List in 2010, and has spent the last decade helping to elect a record number of women to the House and Senate. The PAC also says on its website that, of the more than $600 million the organization has raised to support women candidates since its founding in 1985, more than half has been raised under Schriock's leadership. But despite Schriock's numerous accomplishments, she says, she stands on the backs of the women who began EMILY's List more than 30 years ago. 

In 1985, Ellen Malcolm and a small group of friends, including Barbara Mikulski, a former United States Senator from Maryland, decided to get together in her basement, Rolodexes in hand, to send letters to friends to elect Democratic, female candidates. At the time, according to Schriock, no Democratic women had ever been elected to the Senate in their own right. The women wanted to give female candidates credibility and the resources to win. They raised early money and called their organization EMILY'S List – or Early Money Is Like Yeast; it “makes the dough rise.” From there, EMILY'S List became a donor network, encouraging members to contribute to the candidates EMILY'S List recommended. 

Despite the creation of EMILY's List, it's been quite a journey to today's political landscape. In the 1980s, the female founders were fighting against gender discrimination and a lack of willing women to run for office. 

“EMILY'S List had to convince the Democratic Party that women were good candidates and were worth investing in,” Schriock said. “Thankfully, that bit of work was done before I got here, so thank you, thank you, Ellen Malcolm.” 

“I hope they take ownership in their heart over this, because I do feel like I stand on their shoulders, of the barriers that they broke down. They probably didn't even know they were breaking them down at the time.”

As the years progressed, Schriock says, the PAC continued working with women, encouraging people they believed would make positive change, to run for office. EMILY'S List was behind many of the women elected in 1992, the year dubbed, “Year of the woman,” because more women were voted into Congress than in any previous decade. 

“We kept plugging away and adding more women and more Democratic women and begging women to run,” Schriock said.

“And then, 2016 happened.”  

The Strides Made

When EMILY'S List began in 1985, there were no Democratic women in the U.S. Senate, and there were only 12 Democratic women in the entire U.S. House.

Now, 35 years later, there have been 25 Democratic women elected to the Senate, and this year, there could be more than 100 Democratic women elected to the House. 

“That's all of the work EMILY'S list has done,” Schriock said. “Almost all of the Democratic women serving in the U.S. House and the Democratic women in the Senate are EMILY'S list candidates, with the very few exceptions.”

“You have to be intentional about this work. And you have to change people's minds about what women can do.”

In 2020, over 700 candidates at the legislative and local levels are EMILY'S List choices, with even more running. Over 60,000 women have signed up in the last four years with EMILY'S List, saying they want to run for office.  

Schriock also pointed out that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Red to Blue program, a program that provides specific candidates with organizational and fundraising support to help them win and flip seats from Republican to Democratic, supports around 80 percent of EMILY'S List women. 

“But this is not just a moment, this is a sea change, this is not going to go away,” Schriock said. “This is not going to end in 2020. This is happening, these women are coming in, and they're getting support for it.”

“And they're winning because voters are also voting at historic levels, as we saw in 2018, and I believe we will see in 2020.”

Signs point to her being right: one week before Election Day, more than 64 million Americans have voted early, close to 50 percent of the entire vote count during the 2016 presidential election.

President Trump And The Wave Of Democratic Women 

After Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Schriock saw something she'd never seen before: hundreds and then thousands of women from every state inquiring to EMILY'S List about running for office.

“They would say, ‘I may not know what office, I may not know how to do this, but you're EMILY'S List, and you can help me figure that out,’” said Schriock. 

And that's precisely what EMILY'S List has done. 

“It started as just…I would call it the one-two punch of 'Wait a second, Hillary didn't win. And that guy won? That guy, who has never done anything?” said Schriock. 

“But then as time went on, women found their power. And they can see that they can make a change. They're seeing each other run and win. They can see that when they organize, they can get women elected to office to change their local communities and their national community.” 

In fact, so many women have come forward, interested in running for political office after Trump's election, that EMILY'S List expanded and built out their programming and staff to keep up with the demand. Now, the female-run political PAC provides webinars and in-person training/coaching; they built platforms so potential candidates can communicate with each other and a training center where candidates can take lessons on how to run for office.

They added two entirely new departments and expanded their digital platform. They even took their state and local programming, which Schriock said was formerly secondary to the federal work, and made it equal. 

Two of the candidates they've been backing since the beginning: MJ Hegar and Pat Timmons-Goodson. 

Pat Timmons-Goodson

“I have long believed that citizens can only select their leaders from those who offer themselves, and in December, I said, you know, this country is headed in the wrong direction, at a high rate of speed, and we need folks that will offer new leadership and get us on the right track,” said Timmons-Goodson.

“And so I've offered myself, and I'm being very well received.”

Pat Timmons-Goodson, a former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice, is running to represent North Carolina's 8th district in Congress and is poised to be the first African American elected by this district to the U.S. House. She would also be only the seventh woman to represent the state in its history. 

Currently, Timmons-Goodson is up by three in the polls, against the Republican incumbent, Richard Hudson, who has represented the district since 2013. In July, The Cook Political Report changed the area's rating from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.” 

A few factors contributed to this change, including the redrawing of the district: last year, facing pressure from the North Carolina Supreme Court, lawmakers had to redraw illegally gerrymandered congressional districts that heavily favored Republicans. Because of the redrawing, the 8th district has become highly competitive.

“After the redrawing, 40% of the district population is within my home county, ” Timmons-Goodson said. 

“One-fourth of the district is new to the incumbent, so he has to introduce himself for the first time, just as I am. And then there's been a change in the demographics, the suburban part of Charlotte's suburbs are now in this district, and the younger people are more progressive.”

Although Timmons-Goodson's opponent has more cash on hand, she has outraised him throughout the campaign, strictly through grassroots efforts. While Hudson's donations have widely come from PACS, Timmons-Goodson's have come from people. 

“This has not been easy; there were not a whole lot of folks who gave us much of a chance of winning this. But we're in a good place. And I believe that our message is resonating,” said Timmons-Goodson. “And all of these people that we see in these long lines, patiently waiting, I don't think that they're in line for the status quo. I don't. I think that they want change. And they're making sure their voices are heard by getting out and voting.”

“And I think that our campaign is going to be a part of that change.”

MJ Hegar

While discussing her political efforts and campaigning, MJ Hegar's six-year-old son brought her a photo he drew on the back of her mother's paralegal paperwork.

“That's Daniel; he's the cutest thing in the world,” Hegar said. “I wish I could send you a picture of this drawing he just gave me on the back of my mom's docket.” 

Hegar continued, “We need more people in office that have faced the challenges of regular everyday people. And as you can see, you know, my ability to multitask and accomplish multiple things and be a mom fighting for my kids and doing virtual kindergarten and trying to keep food on the table during a pandemic.”

“I just think that we're going to be more effective as legislators, finding solutions to these challenges if we have faced these challenges and understand the challenges.”

Hegar, an Air Force combat veteran and advocate, is running for U.S. Senate in Texas. If elected, she would be the first Democratic woman elected to serve in the Senate in the state. EMILY'S List has backed her campaign against incumbent Republican John Cornyn, who has been a U.S. Senator since 2002. 

“I wouldn't be here without EMILY'S List. Everybody was like, 'What the hell are you doing? You're not a politician…and the guy you're running against won his last midterm by 32 points, and nobody cares that you're running,' said Hegar.

“But EMILY'S List was there for me. They helped me staff; they helped me partner with people; they gave me resumes and advice and guidance long before I was ever endorsed.” 

Depending on the polls, Hegar is down between 2 to 10 points. However, the Cook Political Report has shifted her race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”

“What we need to do to win is keep doing what we've been doing: mobilizing this grassroots army focusing on regular hardworking Texans that have been left behind and left out for so long,” Hegar said.

“I truly believe if I fight for Texas, Texas will come to fight for me in the ballot box.”

Covid-19 And The 2020 Election

Before the pandemic began, EMILY'S List staff traveled around the country, helping Democratic female candidates win their respective races. But since Covid-19 started spreading, EMILY'S List has shifted everything online, just like the candidates. 

“I've got staff who were never home. They would go from race to race, coaching candidates, coaching campaign managers and being the cheerleader and sometimes being the tough love — depending on what's going on,” Schriock said. 

“But now, we don't travel because it's not safe. That was the first thing that changed, and now we use phones and Zoom for communicating. I'm impressed with the team that they were able to pivot so quickly.”

EMILY'S List completely redid their voter contact program because once the country shut down, so did door-to-door knocking. They created a training series on digital organizing too.

As the months continue, some candidates have begun going door-to-door in their respective districts but with plans in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

EMILY'S List has endorsed Kamala Harris for Vice President of the United States. Through what is being called one of their most extensive independent operations, EMILY'S List has been mobilizing women voters across the country to learn more about the senator from California and V.P. nominee. 

Through this process, and in partnership with several other progressive female political PACS and groups, EMILY'S List is also working to combat and push back against racist and sexist online attacks against Harris. The groups are spending $10 million blunting the attacks and sharing pro-Harris content in critical battleground states for the upcoming election, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia. 

“We knew that was going to happen, and we've seen it. In this Trump environment, and with the ease of moving things online, we wanted to make sure that we had a counteroffensive going on,” said Schriock. 

Many EMILY'S List candidates in both the Senate and House are outraising their opponents, many of them Republican incumbents, and the polls are showing many Democratic leads in areas where a Democrat hasn't been elected in years. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier, who is running for U.S. Senate, is up 4 points in a race that Schriok said no one thought would catch on, except EMILY'S List. Meanwhile, in Maine, Sara Gideon is up seven against Republican incumbent Susan Collins, and Theresa Greenfield is up three in Iowa against Republican Senator Joni Ernst. 

“It's women voters and in a lot of cases, good strong women candidates that are energizing those voters,” Schriock said. “And that's where we see a lot of change. People forget, these were districts that were gerrymandered to be Republican, that they are losing.” 

“They tried to make these Republican forever, and they are losing them right now.” 

The Future 

Over the last 35 years, EMILY'S List has changed the political landscape. In a world set up for men over 250 years ago, and run by men for decades, EMILY'S List has helped pave the way for generations of women. 

Schriock believes the women they help elect— and have helped elect—have and will change the system. 

“When Nancy Pelosi became speaker for the first time, it was something as simple as saying, 'Hey, we're gonna have lactation rooms for our members because you know what, some of them have babies.' That was in 2007,”  Schriock said.

Schriock believes EMILY'S List, and any group advocating for better representation in Congress and politics, have to be intentional about the work. Because without intention, it won't happen naturally. She points to Republican women and how the numbers don't match up to ever-increasing Democratic women being elected.

“There isn't a group that is solely focused over years and years of work to elect Republican women,” said Schriock. “Like our mission to elect pro-choice, Democratic women,” Schriok said.

And as the days go by and Election Day creeps closer, Schriok said EMILY'S List is far from done. She won't be happy until there is an equal number of women sitting at every decision-making table, whether in government or any aspect of society.

“As the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, there will be enough women on the court when there are nine,” Schriock said.