Women on the verge

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 20, 2008

And Democratic women are increasingly dismissive of the bipartisan approach of MWPC, which endorses and supports women of both parties. Many have dropped the pretense that the Republican Party has anything to offer them — the breaking point for many came in 2006, when MWPC endorsed Kerry Murphy Healey, a woman with whom they shared zero political ideology, over Deval Patrick for governor. “There is a movement,” says Georgia Hollister Isman, executive director of MassAlliance, “that we want not just women, but women who represent our interests.”

Lee and others are trying to import to Massachusetts the model of EMILY’s List, which has successfully endorsed only Democratic women for office. “The past five years have seen a real increase in party-focused women’s activism,” agrees Mermell.

Girls’ network
Whatever their other benefits, there is little question that these efforts have created a substantial network of supporters that any woman interested in running for office can tap into — for advice, funding, and more.

“When I was a candidate for office three years ago, I wish I had had some of the resources that are available to women now,” says Monahan, who ran unsuccessfully for state rep in 2005.

“There is a strong camaraderie among elected women, and those in and around state politics in Massachusetts, that is very powerful, that wants to see other women elected to office,” says Rebecca “Dee Dee” Edmondson, senior public-affairs associate at Rasky Baerlein. “And there is a willingness to start using that to help promote women.”

“Just being in a room together, that’s a bonding experience,” says one woman (who asked not to be named) who has been involved with some of these projects and the Zucker group, and who says that the connections have subsequently helped her. “In a way,” she adds, “it’s creating an old-girls’ network.”

But at the moment, that network does not stretch to include women who were not with Clinton.

“They don’t even recognize the other group as valid,” says one woman who works in politics and has been an active Obama supporter. “The Hillary voters will stop talking to you when they realize you were with Obama.”

“Michigan and Florida became a litmus test of where you were on women’s issues,” complains another Obama supporter, a woman with years of political activism in the state. “It took on such symbolism for reasons I never understood.”

Some Clinton supporters say they are trying to bridge that divide; but others are not — Saxe, for instance, wants the Zucker group to focus specifically on electing women who supported Clinton. Another group member flatly calls women who supported Obama “backstabbers.”

In Denver, members of the two camps will be forced to spend time together, as the Massachusetts delegation goes through its daily schedule of events. Perhaps, as some predict, tensions will begin to thaw.

Senate president Murray, many agree, might well be the most important figure in what becomes of all this new enthusiasm to promote women candidates. Although she has been helpful to many women in the party, and is well-liked and respected among many Democratic women both in and outside of the Zucker group, she has never been considered aggressive in promoting women into office — unlike US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, who has openly declared the recruitment of female candidates a top priority. That has not been Murray’s priority: in this year’s State Senate races, only one of the races in the five districts with open seats even features a female candidate running for the slot.

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