How Women’s Groups Are Betting on ‘The Hillary Clinton Effect’

They’re hoping she will convince female candidates to put their names on the ballot—and help them win elections once they get there.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves the platform after attending the CEO Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia on April 13, 2012.
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Emily Schultheis
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Emily Schultheis
May 26, 2015, 2:07 p.m.

When the group Emerge Amer­ica talks to pro­spect­ive fe­male can­did­ates, their pitch is simple: By join­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton on the bal­lot, you’re tak­ing part in his­tory.

“We talk to wo­men and say, ‘Ima­gine your name on the bal­lot with Hil­lary Clin­ton,’” said An­drea Steele, the group’s pres­id­ent. “Ima­gine telling your grand­chil­dren, ‘I ran for of­fice the same year Hil­lary Clin­ton did.’”

It’s more than a talk­ing point: Wo­men’s groups hope to lever­age a Clin­ton can­did­acy in­to massive gains in the num­ber of wo­men in of­fice, hop­ing a run for the highest of­fice will yield big vic­tor­ies down the bal­lot.

They’re not shy about the strategy. Emerge Amer­ica’s pro­gram, which is called “Fol­low Hil­lary’s Lead,” aims to in­crease the num­ber of wo­men in loc­al and state elec­ted of­fice by 20 per­cent. The group, which trains and re­cruits can­did­ates at the loc­al and state level, op­er­ates in 14 states and is launch­ing op­er­a­tions in Michigan this year.

“We are ex­cited, really ex­cited about that in­spir­a­tion factor,” Steele said. “What we’re try­ing to do is really lever­age that—we really just want to make this the elec­tion cycle of many wo­men, not just one wo­man.”

Demo­crats of all stripes hope the pres­id­en­tial race helps put their tar­geted can­did­ates in of­fice, look­ing for big turnout (the pres­id­en­tial elect­or­ate has re­cently been both lar­ger and fur­ther left than the mid-term pool) as the party pro­motes the po­ten­tial first fe­male pres­id­ent.

“People think she can win,” said Terry O’Neill, pres­id­ent of the Na­tion­al Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Wo­men. “If I were in­clined to run for of­fice, this is the year I’d ac­tu­ally want to run for of­fice—she def­in­itely has coat­tails.”

Clin­ton’s can­did­acy holds a spe­cial be­ne­fit for groups look­ing to boost fe­male can­did­ates: It’s a sig­nal to oth­er wo­men that they too can hold elec­ted of­fice. Re­search shows that it’s far tough­er to get wo­men to agree to run for of­fice than it is for men, and be­ing able to point to a high-pro­file ex­ample of a fe­male can­did­ate gives wo­men an­oth­er tan­gible ex­ample of what’s pos­sible in 2016.

“Not only does hav­ing a wo­man at the top of the tick­et change the story, it opens up massive op­por­tun­it­ies for us to be able to build aware­ness about wo­men’s rep­res­ent­a­tion and the bar­ri­ers they face,” said Erin Loos Cut­raro, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the wo­men’s re­cruit­ment group She Should Run.

EMILY’s List, the pro-wo­men’s cam­paign group that fo­cuses primar­ily on fed­er­al races, sees the be­ne­fit of Clin­ton top­ping the tick­et as more than just the can­did­ate her­self—Clin­ton will makes the cam­paign con­ver­sa­tion about wo­men-fo­cused is­sues on which fe­male can­did­ates are strong, such as equal pay, paid fam­ily leave and af­ford­able child care.

“For can­did­ates and for voters, the idea of elect­ing the first wo­man pres­id­ent is in­spir­ing and en­er­giz­ing, but we are also see­ing ex­cite­ment around en­ga­ging on is­sues that im­pact wo­men and fam­il­ies,” said Stephanie Schriock, the group’s pres­id­ent.

The suc­cess of that mes­sage has yet to be seen: Re­cruit­ment in most down-bal­lot races, par­tic­u­larly state le­gis­lat­ive and loc­al races, is just be­gin­ning, so it’s im­possible to quanti­fy Clin­ton’s ef­fect un­til fil­ing dead­lines come around.

In Sen­ate races, though, Demo­crats already have se­cured top wo­men re­cruits in a hand­ful of key races—on Tues­day, Rep. Ann Kirk­patrick an­nounced that she will run for John Mc­Cain’s Sen­ate seat in Ari­zona. Oth­er top-tier wo­men Sen­ate can­did­ates in­clude Cali­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Kamala Har­ris, former Nevada At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Cath­er­ine Cortez Masto and Illinois Rep. Tammy Duck­worth. (That num­ber could rise, too: Former Sen. Kay Hagan in North Car­o­lina and Gov. Mag­gie Has­san in New Hamp­shire are two oth­er top fe­male can­did­ates whom Demo­crats are work­ing to re­cruit for their states’ re­spect­ive Sen­ate races.)

But many in­volved in re­cruit­ing fe­male can­did­ates this cycle say they’ve seen a no­tice­able up­tick in the num­ber of wo­men who are ex­press­ing in­terest in run­ning—and men­tion­ing Clin­ton as a reas­on. When Liz Berry, who runs the Wash­ing­ton state chapter of the Na­tion­al Wo­men’s Polit­ic­al Caucus, asked the 70-odd wo­men at their March train­ing to name a fe­male lead­er who in­spires them, more than half im­me­di­ately named Clin­ton.

“It’s in the air,” she said. “A lot of the think­ing, es­pe­cially in the tough­er races, is that Hil­lary will be the tide that floats all boats. If Hil­lary’s on the bal­lot, it’s got to be good for wo­men, es­pe­cially Demo­crat­ic wo­men.”

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