The 2018 midterm elections are right around the corner, and Georgia’s WIN List is making sure it has candidates ready to run.
The political action committee dedicated to recruiting, training and electing Democratic women for state and local office recently hosted several day-long “boot camps” around the state, including a session in Savannah last week.
The weather brought out more sandals than boots, but around 40 women spent the day at the Beach Institute learning about volunteer management, fundraising, clear messaging and other tools essential to running an effective political campaign.
“The idea is to build a Savannah base and create a community of women candidates who are supported financially and politically,” explained Amanda Hollowell, GA WIN List’s communications director and the site coordinator for the Savannah training.
Hollowell is also the first local graduate of the WIN Leadership Academy, a carefully vetted group groomed for a year on the dirty details of Georgia politics. Applications for WLA jumped from 35 in 2016 to 140 in 2017, and while the packed classroom at the Beach Institute surpassed expectations, it didn’t come as a surprise.
“It validates that women want to be trained,” said Hollowell, who plans to run in 2020 for an as yet-to-be-named seat. “And we are going to train as many as possible.”
The Atlanta-based GA WIN List has helped put more than 55 women in the House and Senate since its inception in 2000 and is modeled on the success of the national PAC Emily’s List that helped elect candidates Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). WIN List-endorsed candidates flipped state congressional seats in 2010 and 2016, and the Georgia legislature now has the highest percentage of women in any governing body in the South, the majority of them supporters of reproductive freedom. Also due to GA WIN List efforts, there are more African American women legislators in Georgia than any other U.S. state, including House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), who is considering a run for governor in 2018.
GA WIN List expanded its visibility in Savannah last year with the acquisition of two local board members, former mayor Edna Jackson and businesswoman Murem Sharpe.
“Savannah is a strategic location for this work, and its citizens are open to women in politics,” says executive director Melita Easter.
“Right now we have this pale, male patriarchy in local governments and state Congress. Women of coastal Georgia need to run so they can be better represented at the power tables.”
Easter acknowledges that many women continue to be heads of households while holding down full-time jobs, which is precisely why they make great candidates and campaign managers.
“Women are great at balancing all of the duties and responsibilities on their plate, and women who are passionate about politics will always find a way,” she assures.
An ethnically-diverse, multi-generational crowd sat rapt as facilitator Kate Coyne-McCoy ran down a rainbow of Powerpoint slides on everything from how to ask for money to creating an authentic message to building a contact list.
The founder of CampaignFixer.com has consulted on thousands of campaigns in the last 20 years, including her own run for a U.S. House seat in home state of Rhode Island in 2000. After she lost that race, she decided to hang up her candidate’s hat and concentrate her efforts on strategy, development and counsel for others.
“I figured I could be in Congress shoveling shit with a toothpick or be out here training other women to run,” Coyne-McCoy told the room with a wry grin.
Many of the women at last week’s boot camp weren’t necessarily there to run themselves but to learn how to get others elected.
“I’m recently retired, and I have time to dedicate myself to getting the people in office that I feel will represent my values,” said Iris Dayoub, a former financial advisor and business owner.
Her daughter, Rebecca, sat next to her. “I was raised by a feminist, and I have a passion for fairness and social justice, and I’m here to find out how to best support candidates I believe in,” reiterated Rebecca, an educator.
Local living wage and affordable housing activist Gwendolyn Glover wouldn’t confirm a future run, though she said she came to collect information on what it takes to win.
“The key seems to be knowing who you are and understanding the resources available, then building a team to make it happen,” Glover surmised.
Several women traveled from other areas of the state to attend the boot camp, and at least one has already launched a campaign. Brenda Chaie of Dublin is seeking a seat on the Laurens County Board of Commissioners, which currently has no women.
“I’ve learned a lot today, especially about fundraising and what we can and cannot do,” said Chaie, who is running on a platform of improving roads and other infrastructure in lower-income sections of the county.
“Mostly, though, I’ve learned that we’re on the right track, which is great.”
While traditional political strategy dictates starting at local levels and working one’s way up the ladder, Coyne-McCoy advises going straight for for the goal.
“If you want to be a member of Congress, run for Congress—if that seat is winnable,” she said.
“Ultimately, this is a game of numbers.”
GA WIN List doesn’t endorse a candidate simply because she is a pro-choice Democrat; she has to be in it to win it. The organization closely monitors Georgia’s deeply gerrymandered districts and voter registration numbers to find areas that could shift in any given election cycle. For 2018 and 2020, it has identified several districts around the state that could go blue and is in the process of helping viable candidates establish residency in those areas.
“Eighty-five percent of Georgia legislature incumbents ran unopposed this last election cycle,” reminds executive director Easter, fixing a steely gaze on the room.
“That is not going to happen again.”