Joan Vennochi

EMILY’s List vs. Sarah Palin

By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / July 15, 2010

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SARAH PALIN is the enemy who must be stopped.

That much is obvious to Stephanie Schriock, the new president of EMILY’s List, the fundraising network committed to electing women who support abortion rights. The former governor of Alaska and unsuccessful Republican vice presidential candidate may or may not run for president. In the meantime, she is a one-woman money machine who can raise millions for Sarah’s List: conservative candidates, male and female, who threaten the liberal agenda.

Palin “represents a set of values that are way out of the mainstream and arguably out of the mainstream of the Republican Party,’’ said Schriock during a recent visit to Boston. The movement Palin represents is “anti-government. Government can do nothing right. They are turning up the anger and it’s very dangerous.’’

Palin aside, these are challenging times for EMILY’s List, whose cause lies in its acronym and slogan: “Early Money Is Like Yeast. (It makes the dough rise.)’’ Last January, Ellen Malcolm announced that she was stepping down as president of the group she founded 25 years ago. Schriock, 37, who worked as national finance director for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign and managed Al Franken’s Senate campaign in Minnesota, became the new face of an old enterprise. That is to help women of a certain ideology win office, by first helping them raise enough money to give them credibility.

Over its 25-year history, the organization has worked to elect 80 women to the US House and 15 to the US Senate. Yet despite Nancy Pelosi’s position as speaker of the House, women account for only 17 percent of the House and Senate. EMILY’s List wants to increase the percentage by increasing the number of liberal women elected to Congress.

But this year, it failed in spectacular fashion on that specific mission.

Under Malcolm, the organization invested heavily in Martha Coakley’s Senate campaign. As Coakley’s poll numbers slipped, Malcolm, a gifted speaker, campaigned alongside the candidate during the final weekend before the Jan. 19 special election. Coakley’s stunning loss to Republican Scott Brown triggered soul-searching over whether women let gender blind them to their candidate’s flaws.

EMILY’s List conducted its own analysis of what went wrong. It has not released its official findings, but Schriock insists there is no regret over backing Coakley. “She was a strong, qualified attorney general who just got caught up in a bad storm of things that went awry,’’ said Schriock. She includes frustration over the economy, unhappiness with the process behind health care reform, and security issues raised by the so-called “underwear bomber’’ on the “things that went awry’’ list.

The message of Coakley’s defeat is to take nothing for granted, said Schriock. “Democrats need to fight for every single vote,’’ she said. EMILY’s List is doing that, especially on behalf of incumbents like Senator Barbara Boxer of California.

EMILY’s List is also trying to recruit younger women to its overall cause, electing pro-choice women. That is a big part of its challenge. By making abortion rights its candidate litmus test, EMILY’s List remains focused on an issue that is less important to women who have no memory of life before Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

But abortion energizes the base, on the right and left, and so does Palin. So EMILY’s List will continue to use abortion and Palin to whip up support for the candidates it backs.

“I think it’s time to get the story of the 2010 elections straight — and to call out Palin’s efforts for what they are: an attempt, in the name of ‘feminism’ to turn back the clock on women’s rights and to set American families back,’’ Schriock wrote recently on the Huffington Post. “I think women voters will choose progress, not Palin, this cycle.’’

Of course, EMILY’s List mostly defines feminism and “progress’’ the old-fashioned way — as unyielding commitment to abortion rights. Palin’s anti-abortion stand makes her poison to EMILY’s List. But at the same time, it makes her the queen of Sarah’s List.

This is war.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at

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