Gretchen's List: November 2021
We’re a year out from the midterms! Things could be better!
Biden’s approval is tanking while the Senate clings to the filibuster and waters down truly transformative legislation that would protect our democracy, our economy, our families, our planet, and our future for the sake of bipartisan compromise no one believes will happen. We still don’t have House districts in most states, and the proposed ones in Illinois aren’t great and the proposed ones in Virginia suck. The pediatric vaccine EUA is… where? (I was told vaccines before Halloween!)
Some of this will get better, and soon. I think we’ll get more clarity around districts quickly, which will help us figure out a strategy for the House. The conversations in the Senate will reach a breaking point, and I have to have faith that the majority that we all worked so, so hard to build will do what is necessary. And, once they do, I have to believe that Biden’s numbers will start to rebound — and that the legislation passed will create tangible benefits for Americans. But this promise doesn’t make right now any less frustrating.
Given all this: I’m going to wait until early 2022 to really zero in on races that I think we should be focusing on next fall. If you’re raring to go, any of the candidates on this list will need your support and will put your early money to good use. In the meantime, I hope you’ll indulge the future planning below, and my recent imaginings about what might be possible with new leaders in the years to come.
The United States Senate: The Next Generation
Many of you already know that I am obsessed with figuring out how we’re going to elect a Democratic woman President. In addition to fundamentally protecting democracy, saving the planet from melting, and making sure anyone who wants an abortion can have one, it’s really one of the primary organizing principles in my giving.
To get there, I need to think about where our Presidential nominees come from, and the answer is really: gubernatorial offices and the United States Senate. There are a few cabinet members that will run (Kamala Harris, Gina Raimondo), and a few exciting House members or talented mayors that might consider going for it. But for the most part, we start with governors and senators. And the field there is not huge! There are six Democratic women governors, and 15 Democratic women senators (plus Kyrsten Sinema). Some of them could and will be contenders (Gretchen Whitmer), but honestly: of these 22 women, the vast majority — by virtue of age or experience or location or having tried before without much success — are not well-positioned for a national run.
So, we need more women in the Senate. (We have the potential to add a few more this cycle: Cheri Beasley is gearing up in North Carolina; Val Deming is going to fight hard in Florida; Sarah Godlewski and Val Arkoosh are in the thick of primaries in our most flippable seats in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, respectively.) There is also a longer-term answer here. Flipping seats is exciting! But if we want to meaningfully increase women in the Senate, we also need to be thinking ahead to open seats in blue states.
I made a list of all the Democratic Senators that are over the age of 70 (leaving off Joe Manchin, because once he retires we will not win that seat again). Then I made a list of the women in their states who I could see credibly launching a Senate campaign in the next few years. This is my pipeline. (With many thanks to some Electing Women Bay Area friends and mentors who added a few names and feedback!)
What is this list for? It’s to prove that there are women in each of these states who are capable of filling this role. It’s to identify candidates that I want to watch and make connections with sooner rather than later. It’s my opportunity (and now yours!) to consider if and in which primaries I might want to engage in the coming years to get qualified, diverse women into our highest levels of elected office. It’s to get us thinking more than one cycle at a time, and consider what we want our reflective democracy to look like for the next generation.
There’s important context here. First, I am not saying that every Senator over the age of 70 needs to retire immediately. There are a number of Senators on this list who are true champions who are able to do the job energetically and robustly. And, it’s important to have Senators who have longevity in the Senate — they are in leadership roles; they have long-established relationships with their colleagues; they know their constituents and their states well. (To illustrate that this is not wholly about age, 75-year-old Congresswoman Barbara Lee is on the pipeline list, as she has expressed interest in the California seat and seems quite able to do the work.) This list is not about pushing leaders out based on age — it is about identifying Democratic seats in which there will mostly likely be natural transitions in the next decade or so.
Second, the pipeline list is not comprehensive. I relied on my knowledge of the U.S. Congressional delegations and other statewide office holders (e.g., Attorneys General, Secretaries of State, Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller/Treasurer). My knowledge of state houses is not remotely thorough, and there are certainly leaders there who will run. And, there can be successful candidates who have never held office before! These seats aren’t open tomorrow — there are still years during which new players can enter the scene. (Additionally, of course, there will be men in most of these potential races — and for a few states, I think there are men who are the “heir apparent” and probably favored for the nomination. I still didn’t put them on my list.)
Third: I don’t know if these women want to be Senators! Some do, and have made that known. Some are more likely to run for Governor (e.g., Tish James, Maura Healey, Eleni Kounalakis). For many, it will depend on when the seat is actually available, and what happens in their careers between now and then. I did not talk to any of these women about being on my crazy spreadsheet. Their inclusion here does not reflect anything anyone has told me about their personal political futures.
Fourth, listing a woman here doesn’t mean that I necessarily want them to be a Senator. For sure, there are names on here that I am excited about, and candidates that I have been glad to get to know. There are also a few that would not be my choice (usually because another name on this list is).
It’s hard electing women. This isn’t a red state/blue state pattern. Seventeen states have never sent a woman to the Senate (including blue states CT, DE, NJ, NM, RI, VT); 19 have never had a woman as governor (including CA, IL, MD, MN, NV, WI). There are five states that have never elected a woman to either of these offices: Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Vermont (!!!!) has never sent a woman to Congress. Maryland has no women in their current Congressional delegation. If we want to have a woman as President, we need to not only increase the women in the pipeline, we need to get people in more of these states — including bright blue Democratic states — used to electing women to statewide and executive offices. And we can start with this list.
November 9, 12:30pm. Please join me for lunch with Assistant Speaker of the House, Congresswoman Katherine Clark of Massachusetts. The highest ranking woman in Congressional leadership after Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Katherine is a clear leader on policies affecting women, children, and families. This event will support her Fair Shot PAC, which elevates her position while funding other vulnerable incumbent. Lunch will be in The Presidio and will be outdoors; all attendees must be vaccinated. Please RSVP and contribute here.
November 10, 12pm. Congresswoman Katie Porter of California will be joining Electing Women Bay Area for lunch in Potrero Hill. Katie is a champion and rising star; I will ask her to bring her white board. Lunch will be outdoors; all guests must be vaccinated. Please RSVP here.
November 17th, 5pm PT. I would love to have you join Emerge America’s Post-Election (Virtual) Event! We will be joined by former gubernatorial candidate and Delegate Jennifer Carrol Foy of Virginia as our emcee, as well as many other Emerge alumnae from across the country. I am so proud of Emerge’s work to increase Democratic women in the pipeline across the country, with our particular focus on women of the New American Majority. You can register here, or please let me know if you’d like to attend as my guest!
November 17th, 7pm. Please save the date for dinner in San Francisco will Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. We are still confirming details, but this will be an outdoor event. If you are interested in attending, please fill out the form here and I will send you details when they are finalized.
Date TBD. I am excited to be hosting a virtual briefing with the amazing Aimee Allison of She the People. Come to this free event to learn about the work of She the People to increase the political power and prominence of women of color. If you’re interested, just add your name to the form here and I’ll send details as soon as I have them!
Donor, sociologist, researcher. Board member at WDN Action and Emerge America, and steering committee member at Electing Women Bay Area -- but all content here is mine alone and not on behalf of any organization or business. My goals are to help others find their networks and feel more comfortable and informed participating in the political giving space.
Currently reading: Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America by Keisha Blain.