Demonstrators chant while marching towards Trump Tower during the Women’s March in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg)

Candidates and Contributors May Make 2018 the Year of the Woman

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic women –- from grassroots donors to wealthy political benefactors -- are stepping up contributions at a record pace as they seek to send President Donald Trump a strong rebuke in this year’s midterm elections that will determine control of Congress.

Democrats have a shot at seizing control of the House from Republicans and at least a potential path to a Senate majority, and women activists are helping create a wave of momentum for the party. 

After being stung by Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 presidential election, the women have been regrouping, organizing and spending in an effort to help the Democratic Party bounce back. Their efforts have been bolstered by the #MeToo movement, recent special election victories and an inspirational speech last week by Oprah Winfrey.

As Trump closes out his first year as president, a record 266 Democratic women have reported raising money for House races, and other women are putting money into campaigns at unprecedented rates, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.

Anniversary Marches

The outpouring of support for women on social media as a result of the flood of sexual harassment and misconduct accusations against men in powerful positions has spurred some of the new activism. This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March in Washington and other cities, and on Saturday and Sunday, thousands of people across the nation are expected to gather for rallies and other events.

"It has the potential to be the year that women turn the tide and transform our country," said Barbara Lee, a Boston-based political consultant and philanthropist who gave $1.9 million to super political action committees that supported the Clinton campaign.

A Quinnipiac University Poll released on Jan. 17 showed that 63 percent of women disapprove of the president’s job performance, compared to 57 percent of American voters overall.

"Women are facing the brunt of Trump’s and the Republican Party’s attacks -- attacks on reproductive justice, minimum wage laws, protections for tipped workers, anti-immigrant policies, student loan debt forgiveness and access to healthcare," said Amber Anderson Mostyn, a Texas lawyer and a major Democratic donor.

In the first three quarters of 2017, Democratic candidates, especially women, benefited the most from the trend, with female candidates receiving 44.2 percent of their contributions from women, on average, up from 40.3 percent in 2016, the analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics showed.

Record Numbers

Among Democratic candidates, about 33 percent are women, while fewer Republican women are running and raising money in House races than usual this cycle. Campaigns will next report their latest fundraising totals on Jan. 31.

“There is a real commitment here and women are looking around to see who the candidates are,” said Susie Tompkins Buell, a prominent Democratic donor from San Francisco who co-founded the Esprit clothing line. “I’m focusing more on the House races because I think that’s where the fresh young ones are going.”

Emily’s List, the largest national organization devoted to electing female candidates, said December set the fundraising record in its 33-year history for the final month of the year. Much of the added giving came in the form of small donations contributed online. The group said it could not provide a total as it was still tallying the final numbers.

Stephanie Schriock, the group’s president, said the number of women running for office is soaring. During the entire 2016 election cycle, Emily’s List heard from 920 women who were considering running for office or getting involved politically in some way. That number has already grown, to 26,000 for the 2018 election cycle.

“People are seeing women candidates are a good investment,” Schriock said in an interview last week in her Washington office. "We are in a tipping-point moment."

A decisive win by Democrat Patty Schachtner this week in a special election in a Wisconsin state senate district that Trump carried by 17 points in 2016 gave the party its latest boost, following the first Democratic victory in a U.S. Senate race in Alabama in 25 years in December and decisive wins for governor and other contests in Virginia the month before.

Still, November remains a long way off, and Trump won 41 percent of women’s votes in 2016, according to exit polls. The Republican Party is also likely to have significant financial resources in 2018. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s joint fundraising committee, Team Ryan, said Thursday that it raised more than $44 million in 2017, a record total for a non-national-election year.

Midterm Math

Typically, the party holding the White House almost always loses congressional seats in the midterm elections. Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to take the House and two to secure a majority in the Senate. Analysts suggest their chances are better in the House because they’re defending far more Senate seats than Republicans and only have a few strong pick-up opportunities in that chamber.

Democratic candidates for office -- and potential future ones -- are also seeking to leverage this weekend’s marches and rallies for their own campaigns. 

"This weekend marks one year since women across the country marched for equality and in protest of Donald Trump’s sexism," J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire and Democratic candidate for governor in Illinois, said in a statement Thursday. "As these issues continue to plague our country, I’m proud to march again this coming Saturday."

Tompkins Buell, a major supporter of Clinton’s campaign who gave $2.5 million in the 2015 and 2016 election cycle to candidates and committees that report to the Federal Election Commission, said she’ll likely give even more for this election than in past midterm races.

“Anyone who was committed to Hillary is committed to the bigger picture,” she said. “These deep dark days have really brought the best out of women.”

In addition to the record number of House candidates, there are 79 women who are running or exploring runs for governor and 49 for U.S. Senate seats, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Lee, the Boston philanthropist, said she is leaning toward supporting candidates in those races because the positions are better stepping-stones to the Oval Office. 

As disappointing as Clinton’s 2016 loss was, Lee said, she thinks the number of women running for office -- including at the local and state level -- will make it easier for a woman to eventually win the White House. 

"She will have been carried by a movement and not compelled to carry it herself," said Lee, whose family foundation helps women running for office regardless of party.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.