Rachel Weiner of the Post is asking the question that some of us here in Maryland have been asking for over a year now: why is Emily’s List, a well-respected and savvy group, spending so much money on Donna Edwards when Chris Van Hollen is at least comparable, and arguably better, on the issues Emily’s List cares about? What about all the other Senate races that Emily’s List could be spending on that might be the difference between Democrats taking control of the Senate and falling short?
Emily’s List argues that its mission is to elect pro-choice Democratic women, regardless of who gets toppled along the way. The group says its investment on behalf of making Edwards Maryland’s first African American female senator helps continue the legacy of Mikulski, the first woman elected with Emily’s List support.
“Making history 30 years ago was just as important as it is today,” said Emily’s List spokeswoman Marcy Stech.
Van Hollen’s supporters, including Maryland State Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D), contend that instead of spending so much to back Edwards, Emily’s List should focus on helping female candidates running against Republicans who don’t support the group’s agenda.
“I’m disappointed, like many other people, that Emily’s List has chosen to try to use its muscle to oppose a candidate who I think has represented Maryland really well,” said Kopp, a former state lawmaker who served with Van Hollen in Annapolis and has endorsed his campaign.
This explanation is just too simple. What the Post and others need to realize is that according to what I’m hearing, the Emily’s List commitment to Donna Edwards is about personal relationships, some of which go back decades. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but when it becomes so intensely personal that it affects broader strategic thinking, it’s appropriate – and necessary – to point this out. And we’re way past that point now.
A couple of data points that should be mentioned. Let’s start here:
Democrats have expanded the Senate map this year, recruiting viable candidates in states no one expected them to compete in, such as Arizona and Missouri, and arguably positioning themselves to ride an anti-Trump wave to the Senate majority.
But there’s one big problem: Money.
Republicans are outspending Democrats in key races so far. There’s little indication that Democrats will close the gap as Election Day approaches, and signs the chasm will grow thanks to the longer roster of deep-pocketed outside groups on the right. That’s triggered growing anxiety within the minority party about relinquishing an opening to net the four or five seats they need to recapture the Senate.
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But tilting against that optimism on the left is the GOP’s cash edge. Republicans have already spent big in competitive races across the map.
In Ohio, the Koch brothers-linked super PAC Freedom Partners Action Fund went up with a $2 million buy last week attacking Ted Strickland for job losses in Ohio while he was governor. The Democratic leadership-blessed Senate Majority PAC quickly responded with an ad accusing Portman of sending jobs abroad, but the buy was for just $640,000.
In New Hampshire, Republican outside groups spent millions against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan before she even entered the race. GOP spending on the contest is now up to $8 million, while Senate Majority PAC has responded with about $1.3 million and the DSCC has chipped in $15,000 in digital ads.
Emily’s List is spending desperately needed money – millions – on a candidate who is marginally (if that) preferable to the Democratic primary alternative. Is Donna Edwards worth not winning a critical Senate race that will mean Mitch McConnell stays as majority leader? She shouldn’t be, not under any rational analysis. But that’s what may well happen, as I’m hearing that Stephanie Schirock and Emily’s List are vowing to go “dollar for dollar” with Chris Van Hollen. That’s ludicrous, and reminiscent of 2014, when the group spent millions on a doomed and ill-advised campaign for Wendy Davis in Texas.
Second data point: right here in Maryland, in CD4, Emily’s List has endorsed Joseline Pena-Melnyk, the only female candidate in the race and a true champion on pro-choice and women’s issues. What kind of financial commitment has Emily’s List made to Pena-Melnyk? What kind of IE spending are they doing? As far as I can tell, precisely zero. What impact would a $250,000 or $500,000 TV buy have on the CD4 race? Enormous. So when Emily’s List says it’s “all about electing pro-choice Democratic women,” that’s not really true. If you’re not in the Emily’s List club, you don’t get the money.
This pattern of behavior is all kinds of wrong. Go find a competitive Senate race against a GOP incumbent, and spend the money there. Winning the Senate ought to be more important than winning a pissing contest in a Democratic primary. And let Maryland Democrats pick our own senator, OK?