October 27, 2013

Washington Notebook: Margaret Chase Smith inspires Republican PAC

A group of Republicans is trying to follow the methodology of EMILY’s List in order to grow the ranks of conservative women serving in Congress.

WASHINGTON — Over the past three decades, the organization EMILY’s List has arguably amassed more money and national political clout than any other working to help Democratic women win elections.

If you are a pro-choice woman running as a Democrat, being “on the List” and scoring an EMILY’s List endorsement provides access to campaign assistance and donations from more than 2 million members.

Now, a group of Republicans is trying to follow the methodology – if not the ideology – of EMILY’s List in order to grow the ranks of conservative women serving in Congress. And the namesake of the “Maggie’s List” political action committee is one of Maine’s most famous elected leaders: the late Sen. Margaret Chase Smith.

“She absolutely represents our core values,” Maggie’s List chairman and treasurer Sandra Mortham said of Smith, a Republican who shattered glass ceilings and gender stereotypes throughout her 32 years in Congress. “Any woman who was born in the late 1800s and served four terms in the House and four terms in the Senate is pretty remarkable.”

Smith, who died in her native Maine in 1995, was the first woman to serve in both chambers of Congress, as well as the first to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency. By today’s standards, she would be considered a “hawk” for her pro-military views. But her bold stance against fellow Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade – delivered in her “Declaration of Conscience” speech – demonstrated her willingness to stand up to power.

Mortham, who was Florida’s first female secretary of state and first woman Republican House leader, called Smith “an inspiration” and “a good motivator” given what she accomplished at a time when so few women served in politics.

The Florida-based PAC first raised money and made donations – typically $500 to $1,000 – to candidates in the 2010 elections. To qualify, Mortham said, candidates must have a track record in politics or civic life and be fiscally conservative and support less government, more personal responsibility and stronger national security.

Unlike EMILY’s List, which only endorses candidates who support abortion rights, Mortham insists that Maggie’s List does not consider such social issues in selecting candidates.

The list of past recipients of Maggie’s List endorsements or money includes Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and 16 women elected to the U.S. House in 2010 or 2012. The PAC is gearing up for the 2014 congressional elections.

But campaign finance reports show that Maggie’s List is barely a blip on the screen of EMILY’s List, much less a competitor. Maggie’s List’s filings with the Federal Election Commission show the group had received roughly $57,000 in donations through June 30. EMILY’s List, by contrast, is a heavy-hitter PAC with $6.9 million raised for federal campaigns by that date.

“It does take time,” Mortham said. “We are out there getting our name out, networking and generating a buzz.”

Ironically, Maggie’s List has local chairmen in 38 states but not in Maine. Mortham said they hope someone will step forward in Maine, especially given the group’s namesake.

ENDORSEMENTS IN 2ND DISTRICT RACE

Speaking of EMILY’s List, one Maine congressional candidate (who coincidentally is named Emily) has already received the organization’s stamp of approval.

State Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, was endorsed by EMILY’s List earlier this month as she seeks the Democratic nomination for Maine’s 2nd District seat. (The seat’s current occupant, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, is running for governor next year.)

Yet Cain isn’t the only 2nd District hopeful that received a big-name (and potentially big-money) endorsement.

Late last week, the mega-union AFL-CIO endorsed state Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, in the primary race. Don’t be surprised if more unions follow suit in support of Jackson, a logger. And just as EMILY’s List opens up financial lines for Cain from the group’s members, union endorsements could do the same for Jackson.

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