With a record-breaking 20 women headed to the U.S. Senate next year, and with 80 percent of its endorsed candidates winning in 2012, Emily's List, a group dedicated to electing Democratic women to office, had a lot to celebrate.
And celebrate it did: As Washington-based political organizations hold their post-election events, the foremost Democratic women's group took its turn on the "victory lap" circuit Wednesday. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz addressed a handful of supporters and journalists at a briefing in downtown D.C.
Its message: In 2012 women turned out for Democrats - voting 55 percent for President Obama - because an atavistic GOP agenda turned them off, not simply because a few Republican candidates made epic mistakes with comments about rape.
"After the election was over, and we were all exhausted from high-fiving and drinking too much, what was surprising to me was the reaction from the Republican establishment," McCaskill said, noting that Republicans had acknowledged their demographic shortcomings among Latino voters, with a few prominent GOP voices calling for immigration reform as an answer. "We haven't heard yet any kind of acknowledgement that women are rejecting their agenda in record numbers."
McCaskill called herself "the senator who brought you Todd Akin" - an apt title, given that McCaskill aired ostensible attack ads against Akin, unsubtly designed to boost him in the three-way GOP Senate primary, which he won. McCaskill went on to beat him in the general election. But Akin's primary victory turned out to be a boon for female Democratic candidates everywhere, McCaskill said, because it "crystallized" something about Republicans in "so many races across the country."
After the 2010 midterms saw women's presence in Congress reduced for the first time since 1982, Wasserman Schultz said, Democratic women had regained their footing. The House will see 16 new Emily's List candidates entering its ranks in 2013.
"We were clearly helped by Republicans," Wasserman Schultz said, referring to Todd Akin and and Indiana's Richard Mourdock, and their damaging "rape" comments (Mourdock also lost his Senate race, to Democrat Joe Donnelly), but also by the House Republican agenda. "When they took the House majority [after the 2010 midterms], they could have taken a more moderate path."
Instead, Wasserman Schultz said, Republicans pursued bills to redefine rape and defund Planned Parenthood.
"Take a good look when the new Congress gavels in, at our side of the aisle and theirs," Wasserman Schultz said. "They got whiter and more male, and we now have a majority minority and female caucus for the first time in history."