Operation Pipeline: Women in Politics

Women in politics: why more women should run for office, and how they can get political support.

By Beth Hawkins
Photograph: Photo by: iStock

Uncovering Political Candidates
So if not enough women nominate themselves, women’s groups have to rout them out. They keep their eyes peeled for likely candidates at grassroots events and pore over lists of volunteers and donors. The WISH List, a group for pro-choice Republican women, recruits members through direct mail campaigns and fund-raising events and scouts for likely candidates at all levels of government.
In June, the Women’s Campaign Forum, a nonpartisan pro-choice group, launched a Web-based recruiting drive inspired by the idea that every woman has at some point said of a friend or acquaintance, "That woman should be running this town’‘ — or state or country. Anyone who wants to nominate a woman she knows — or herself — can go to the WCF Web site, sheshouldrun.org, and post the name. The WCF contacts nominees, vets them, and tries to get the best prospects started on a political career. In the campaign’s first six weeks, the WCF got 500 nominations.
"There’s no one resume’‘ for a first-time political candidate, says Ilana Goldman, president of the WCF. Historically, most Americans elected to high office have started young and won a first race by 35. But midlife women turn out to be great candidates: They have rich skills and experience, comfort in their own skin and good stories to tell. Still, women "do need someone to say to them, ‘Hey, I really see you as a leader,’" Goldman says. "The third-party validation means so much."
Judy Solano, a member of the Colorado legislature and acting chair of its education committee, was a particularly hard sell. When Solano retired from teaching four years ago at 54, her friends and family knew her as someone with strong opinions about education and years of experience volunteering in the Adams County Democratic Party.
Her husband, Manuel Solano, planted the idea that she should run for state office, but she demurred. He even brought it up at a Halloween party in front of three women already in the state legislature. "I could have killed him,’‘ she says.
But a few days later, one of the women, then-Representative (and now Senator) Lois Tochtrop, called Solano to push the issue. "I’m really not the one," Solano recalls protesting. "I’m just not." Tochtrop wouldn’t relent. "Just let me have breakfast with you." After that meal, Solano says, she realized that ordinary people have to step forward, because they bring ordinary life experience into politics. Three months later, she launched her winning campaign.
Getting Ready to Run
Solano was reelected in 2006 and is now a regular at White House Project sessions, where she tells her story and coaches newbies. Many workshops use freshly minted politicians to help break down what seems a daunting process into doable chunks. "Meeting other women who have done it really demystifies it," says Ellen Moran, executive director of EMILY’s List, a pioneering women’s political group founded in 1985.
Turning raw recruits into campaign-ready pros starts with the basics. There’s "the pivot," for instance. Caught off guard or faced with a hostile question, a candidate learns to steer conversation quickly back to the theme she wants to talk about. Some of the tricks come from what was once called assertiveness training: At a WISH List session in Arizona, trainers pushed participants to project authority by not letting the inflection in their voices go up or trail off at the end of a sentence.
Some techniques are particularly relevant for women. Strategists say that voters still need help seeing women as authorities. So they recommend that women wear tailored suits — even if a male politician can campaign in khakis — and use settings such as state capitol buildings for press conferences and campaign ads.

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