The EMILY's List Primaries
Tulsi Gabbard's Saturday victory in Hawaii's 2nd District Democratic primary wasn't just a win for the candidate. It was also another underdog triumph fueled in part by EMILY's List, the pro-choice Democratic women's political action committee. Three of the PAC's marquee candidates have now notched come-from-behind wins in high-profile Democratic primaries in the past two months, and Tuesday's House primaries offer another three difficult opportunities for EMILY's List candidates to break through.
Gabbard began the primary for Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono's open seat as a big underdog behind former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who started with strong name identification after several decades in public life in Hawaii. But EMILY's List helped Gabbard keep pace with Hannemann's fundraising and joined several other progressive groups in making independent expenditures on Gabbard's behalf. (Women Vote!, the super PAC affiliated with EMILY's List, spent over $137,000 on TV ads backing Gabbard.)
EMILY's List was also part of a wider Democratic effort to back Julia Brownley in June in California's 26th District, where Democrats were initially worried that an independent could finish second in the top-two primary and keep Brownley -- who joined the race late -- out of the general election in an open, Democratic-leaning district. And the group can claim even more credit for Michelle Lujan Grisham's New Mexico 1st District Democratic primary on the same day. An afterthought to many observers at the beginning of the race, Lujan Grisham was in perfect position to rocket from third to first after her two male adversaries spent months attacking each other. EMILY's List -- which bundled thousands of dollars to Lujan Grisham's campaign and financed over $100,000 of mailers via Women Vote! -- played a major role in giving Lujan Grisham the money to take advantage of her opportunity.
"It's partly the environment and partly the candidates, but this is turning out to be a great year for expanding the ranks of Democratic women in Congress," said EMILY's List spokeswoman Jess McIntosh. Tuesday night, we'll get another indicator of just how good the primary cycle has been for Democratic women. The group has three more star candidates looking to pull off come-from-behind wins in closely-matched Democratic primaries in Connecticut, Florida and Minnesota.
In Connecticut's 5th District, former state legislator Elizabeth Esty moved toward the top of the polls over the last few months as state House Speaker Chris Donovan, the early frontrunner, struggled under the weight of a federal investigation into his campaign's fundraising practices. Esty doesn't have a lock on the nomination to replace Rep. Chris Murphy, though; a third candidate, Dan Roberti, has also leapt into contention as a friendly, district-specific super PAC and a hefty personal loan gave him the funds to compete for undecided voters in the last month of the campaign. Esty has gotten a ton of free media from numerous district newspaper endorsements, though, and she had built a broader vote base before Roberti's late surge.
To the south, businesswoman Gloria Romero Roses is another EMILY's List-backed underdog seeking the Democratic nomination to run against freshman Republican Rep. David Rivera in Florida's 26th District. Her main opponent is Joe Garcia, who lost to Rivera in 2010 and ran for Congress once before, in 2008. Garcia has union backing and the luxury of having been seen on the ballot before, but that primary positive comes with the general election danger of preexisting high negatives. For her part, Roses quickly assembled a good campaign after getting into the race late -- the question is whether she had enough time to overcome Garcia's built-in advantages.
Finally, former state senator and EMILY's List endorsee Tarryl Clark is vying for the Democratic nomination Tuesday to take on freshman GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack in the Minnesota 8th District general election. Clark, who challenged Michele Bachmann in a neighboring district in 2010, has outperformed former Rep. Rick Nolan in fundraising and on television, enabling her to introduce herself to the vast Iron Range district. But the race remains close: Nolan won the district's party convention, which political activists in Minnesota take especially seriously, and the state party has run six figures worth of television ads on his behalf. Cravaack is vulnerable regardless, but Clark has shown more ability to take care of herself in the general and give Cravaack a difficult reelection attempt.
The whole board of Tuesday's House primaries isn't filled with opportunity for EMILY's List candidates: In Wisconsin's 2nd District, popular state Rep. Mark Pocan looks likely to defeat fellow state Rep. Kelda Roys for the seat currently represented by Rep. Tammy Baldwin. But the women's group has already backed a trifecta of underdog female primary victors over the past two months, and they have three excellent chances to add to that total August 14.