How the Woman Who’s Helped Over 500 Women Run for Office Gets It Done

November 5, 2018

The Cut: How the Woman Who’s Helped Over 500 Women Run for Office Gets It Done

By Kaitlin Menza

The mantra “Early Money Is Like Yeast” is the acronym behind EMILYs List, the most powerful pro-choice political action committee in the country, meaning early money makes the dough rise and leads to successful candidacies. President Stephanie Schriock has led the organization since 2010. Since the 2016 election, over 40,000 women have approached the committee to seek its assistance in a run for office. The group has trained more than 500 candidates this cycle.

A historic number of women are running in the midterm elections this year, and polling experts also predict that a record-setting number of women will vote on November 6. If Democrats can win control of the House and Senate, it will be the party’s first significant chance to block Trump’s legislation on issues like health care and immigration, as well as prevent future appointments like Brett Kavanaugh.

An EMILYs List endorsement can make a huge impact on a campaign — as an example, every single Democratic congresswoman of color currently serving in Congress was supported by the group. Here, Stephanie tells the Cut how she gets it done.

On her morning jolt: 
That’s the whole move — how quickly can I get through the showering, doing the hair, and putting on the makeup; out of the house, into the car, and to the coffee. With a stop at 7-Eleven for a Diet Dr. Pepper on the way in. Diet Dr. Pepper from the fountain is the best. My second favorite is the can, but truly the fountain Diet Dr. Pepper is the way to go. That’s my pre-coffee drink. I will note that it is my pre-coffee drink, but my first cup of coffee is half caffeine, half decaf, and then I go to decaf for the rest of the day. I’m really not drinking caffeine all day! I just love that cold Diet Dr. Pepper in the morning.

On her favorite work tasks:
I see every aspect of my job as an important part of getting the work done. I go through it; I make my lists. I like checking things off and making sure I’m getting everything done. Sometimes that’s phone calls. Sometimes that’s meetings. Sometimes that’s handwritten thank-you notes for 30 minutes. Sometimes it’s that in-box. My favorite parts of my day really do come from direct interaction with either my staff or, if I’m lucky, on a particular day we have candidates in. Often, they’re just spending time with the staff to plan strategy, to talk through what they need to be successful. I just stop in, say hi, hear how they’re doing, and ask them if they’re doing okay. Sometimes we forget to just ask them if they’re doing okay. Like “How’s your fundraising; how’s your press doing?” It’s all these business questions, and my job is to come in and go, “How are you? How are you holding up? Have you slept?”

On winding down at night:
It depends on if I’m here or at home or on the road. On the road, I’m probably at events, whether it’s fundraisers or with candidates, until 9, 10 o’clock at night. Then I find my way into a hotel room and spend the next hour cleaning up my email, responding to the staff for the next morning, and then I try to get to sleep. If I’m home or in Washington, D.C., I still have a lot of events in the evening, so it’s pretty rare that I’m slowing down for the night before 8:30, 9. And often it’s later. I try to get one calm hour, or one-and-a-half hours, with my life partner and boyfriend of six years. It’s like, “It’s nice to see you for a little bit! You’re a trooper! Thanks, honey!” We, Joe and I, really do commit when I’m in town to have dinner together once a week, no matter what. When I’m in Washington, I do try to limit my dinners to him. I’ll do a reception, that is not unusual in Washington, D.C., but then we’ll have a later diner. It’s probably not the healthiest thing to do. It’s healthy for the romance.

On alerting candidates to their EMILYs List endorsement: 
I have the best job in the entire organization because I do get to make that exact call. I do recruit on the front of it, too. I’ll do the final recruitment call, when we’ll sit and they haven’t made the final decision, and I’m the one on the phone trying to push them into “Yes, I will run.” For all of our candidates, they earn this endorsement. It does not just come. It’s about putting together a strong organization, a story about why they should be in office, and really a commitment to doing the work that comes with being an elected official. We do not endorse every candidate who runs. I get some pretty extraordinary responses when I make those calls. Like two weeks ago, I made the call to one of our gals running in the United States House, and she was in the grocery store, and I said, “Is this a good time to talk?” And she said, “Yes, absolutely.” I said, “Well, I’m calling to let you know we’ve decided to endorse your candidacy for Congress.” All of a sudden I hear this yell, this joy, and I was like, “You’re in the grocery store!” Oh, she was so thrilled. It’s really a cool part of the job.

On finding her way to politics: 
I wanted to be a doctor. I was very into science, still really into science, actually. But then I always had this passion for — I didn’t know what the term was, but really it was for politics. I was definitely that kid who ran for class president because I really wanted to help do things at school. When I went to college, I started premed with an emphasis on biotechnology. If I can age myself a little bit, it was right before they were finishing the mapping of the human genome, and I was super fascinated by it. I remember being in a chemistry class, and my professor was like, “I know you’re all scientists, so I want you to write a paper on something.” I wrote my paper on the ethics of what we were going to do. Who’s going to decide after we map the human genome on what we cure and don’t cure, what we change and don’t change? When I think about that now, that’s the intersection of philosophy and government. Like what government entity was going to decide? And that was about the last science class I took in college.

On her first campaign:
I started graduate school, political management at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and then took a leave. I ended up finishing, but it took me quite a while. I went into the master’s, and then I was like, I gotta get out there! What am I thinking? I gotta jump into a campaign! I convinced Mary Rieder that I should be her scheduler, over the phone. I thought, Scheduler? Perfect job! I will learn all the aspects of the campaign. Everybody has to go to a scheduler, right? I packed up what I owned, which was not very much, in my car, and drove from D.C. back to Rochester, Minnesota. I got started. And they were having some problems with their finance director. And they ousted the person and asked if I wanted to be promoted to the finance director? It was the first week. Yes! This was a big step. I said, “Are you going to help me?” And they said yes. Sure enough, I became the finance director, and that was my very first paying job. Mary Rieder was trying to earn the endorsement of EMILYs List, this was in 1996, and EMILYs List sent out a finance adviser to train me, this kid who didn’t know what she was doing, to be a fundraiser for the campaign. She sat me down and walked me through call time and finance plans and budgeting and spreadsheets, how to do all this work, and that was the beginning of my political career, and with EMILYs List, too.

On “discovering” Elizabeth Warren:
Me discovering Elizabeth Warren is a little bit of an untrue statement. Elizabeth Warren was discovered by the American voters when President Obama wisely put her in charge of building the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If you remember what was happening at the time, the Democrats all thought she was going to be the first director of the Consumer Protection Bureau. But the Republicans in the Senate made it clear that they were never going to vote her in. I went to her and said, “We need to sit down. I want to walk you through this. I absolutely think you should run for Senate.” This is someone who’s never run for office. She’s never thought about running for office. So I sat down with her over what I joked was a gallon of iced tea that we drank that day, and I literally walked her through what a campaign would look like, how she could put this together, and why I thought she was the right candidate to take on Scott Brown that year. She had a million questions, and then she said she had to take her grandchildren to Legoland first. I can’t forget that. Sure enough, thankfully, she said yes. We couldn’t be happier with her service to the United States Senate. I think she should absolutely be thinking about running for president. I really think we have at least four women who are very strong and smart and come from very different backgrounds who should be thinking about this. I think it’s wide open. It could be Elizabeth Warren; it might be somebody else.

On criticism that EMILYs List is too powerful and too focused on abortion:
At EMILYs List, the mission is very clear and very simple: It’s to elect pro-choice, Democratic women. We always say here, “That’s a three-for-three deal.” You’ve got to be all three of those things. We want to see women leaders succeed in this country, and we truly believe that when we see an equal number of women and men at the decision-making table, that is when we’re going to get the best policies on everything for our families and for our country. But for women to succeed, they need to have opportunity. And they need to have freedom to make decisions in their lives to allow them to be successful. I don’t think our candidates, our women candidates, focus any more on that than they do on jobs, or health care, or national security. Name the issue. But it is a core underlying value that defines who we are.

On what the Democrats need to do to survive:
They have what they need right now, and that is a passionate, energized grassroots base of Americans, led by women — historic numbers of women — activating, organizing, and now, running. This party is, I believe, as strong as it’s been in decades, right now, going into 2018. We do what we need to do, which is make sure that all of our folks, and independents, and good-minded, moderate Republicans vote, and vote for strong Democrats, particularly Democratic women. We’re going to win 2018, and then we’re going to springboard into the decade to come.