As the crowd munched on salmon sandwiches and mixed greens, Gillibrand told them that the women “come from very red states and very red districts, but these are the kinds of seats that we can actually win to find that common ground, bring together and move this country forward.”
There are just 17 women serving in the Senate and 75 in the House, a slight drop from earlier years. Gillibrand told her donors that she wants more women in the House and Senate, because “if we had 50 percent of women in Congress, we would not be debating contraception. We would be debating the economy, small business, jobs, national security — everything but.”
With that, the room of mostly middle-aged and older women cheered, and some even pounded the conference table in approval.
The fundraiser Monday at the New York offices of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine raised more than $100,000 to be split between Christie Vilsack, the former Iowa first lady running against Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa); Tammy Duckworth, a veteran of the Iraq war hoping to defeat Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) in the Chicago suburbs; and Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief challenging Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.).
Strong efforts on GOP turf
Despite running in Republican-leaning districts, each of the women is keeping pace with the incumbents in poll numbers and in the race for campaign cash. Their odds mirror the underdog status that Gillibrand faced in 2006 when she defeated a Republican incumbent in a conservative House district in Upstate New York. Three years ago, Gillibrand was plucked from political obscurity to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as New York’s junior senator.
This year she has raised more than $14 million for her reelection, the third-largest Democratic haul, behind Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Sen. Bill Nelson in Florida. And Gillibrand enjoys a commanding lead in the polls over her Republican opponent, judicial activist Wendy Long, who reported just $113,000 in campaign money last quarter.
So Gillibrand can afford to spend some of her time focusing on her women’s-empowerment program and a new PAC, both called “Off the Sidelines,” to raise money for female candidates and encourage other women to take a more active role in politics or to climb the corporate ladder.
“I want to make it a call to action — asking women first and foremost to vote; second, being an advocate on the issues they care about; third, holding their lawmakers accountable on their priorities; and then hoping to get a few more to run,” Gillibrand said in a recent interview.
She is not the only female lawmaker trying to recruit more women to run for office. Gillibrand credits Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who also chairs the Democratic National Committee, for helping allay her fears about running for office as a young mother. Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and helped recruit a record 11 women to run this year for the Senate.