MADISON – Democratic organizations that recruit and train women to run for office say they’re experiencing a flood of potential candidates. 

The 2018 election is more than a year away, but applications for candidate training have shot up at Democratic organizations like Emerge Wisconsin and EMILY’s List.

“The most important thing is to get women to run for local office and add their voice to a male-driven level of government,” said Eric Couto, executive director
of Wisconsin Progress, a group that recruits and trains both men and women Democratic candidates.

“There’s a voice that’s missing … and in a lot of places that voice is a woman’s.” 

Republicans are also seeking to get women into politics. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch said she didn’t get help from groups focused on getting women to run for office when she beat her male opponents in her 2010 GOP primary.

Afterward, she was asked to co-chair Right Women, Right Now, a project of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

“One of the additional benefits of going through Right Women, Right Now training is frequently … they will bring in dozens of women candidates at a time,” Kleefisch said. “Sometimes it’s just nice to talk to someone who’s going through the exact same thing … you’re going through.”  

On the Democratic side, a surge in female candidates appears likely.

From 2015 to 2016, about 900 women reached out to EMILY’s List about running. Nine months after the 2016 presidential election, around 16,000 women have shown interest, according to the national organization, which helps Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights. 

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Currently in the state Legislature, there are nine women in the 33-member Senate and 22 women in the 99-member Assembly. 

Women make up the majority of the state’s Supreme Court, filling five of the seven seats.

So many women are interested in running for office in 2018 the applications were “through the roof” for the April training session forEmerge Wisconsin, according to the group’s executive director, Erin Forrest. The group trains Democratic women candidates.

To meet the demand, Emerge is offering a second candidate training session in September. 

There are several possibilities for the influx of eager women candidates. President Donald Trump beating Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election has prompted some women to run, Forrest said. 

For some Democratic women, motivation rose after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appointed 13 men — and no women —  to a committee to rework the nation’s health care system, said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

“Most of the women I’ve ever known who’ve gotten involved in politics … have pointed to an injustice that they want to address,” Baldwin said.

State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), who is strongly considering running against Baldwin, said she identifies as being a public servant for all her constituents, rather than seeing herself as just a woman in politics. 

“I don’t believe in the notion of identity politics,” Vukmir said. “If you do believe in it then it’s admitting there’s a glass ceiling for women. I just don’t buy that.” 

Vukmir said shehas noticed young female Republicans embracing politics.

“From my conversations with College Republicans, many … are very excited about the prospect of my run for U.S. Senate,” Vukmir said. “That’s encouraging to me because I think … we can be role models to encourage more young women — and men — to get involved in politics.” 

The “political ambition gap” between men and women starts in high school, Forrest said. Often women come in to candidate training feeling like they’re not qualified enough, have too much responsibility at home or don’t have many women to look to as role models, she said. 

“The best part of my job by far is watching the way these women change from the first weekend (of the six-month program) to the last,” Forrest said. 

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