In a fundraising email to supporters on Tuesday afternoon, the Democratic National Committee listed 11 Democratic senators who ‘urgently’ need support.
All of them were men.
It’s unclear what criteria the Democratic Party used when creating this list — and why they failed to include any women. The male candidates highlighted don’t fall into any one discernible category: The list includes candidates from solidly blue states and swing states, candidates who have already won the Democratic nomination and those who won’t compete in primaries until August. It also includes first-time Senate candidates running in competitive races, like media executive Jon Ossoff in Georgia, alongside Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Democratic whip, who has been in the Senate for 24 years.
With the wide-ranging nature of this list, there are plenty of female candidates who the DNC could have included. Many have already become the Democratic nominee, or are considered to be the likely Democratic nominee in races that are hotly contested. In Iowa, for example, Theresa Greenfield will face Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) in one of the tightest races in the country. The latest polls have Greenfield ahead of Ernst by three points.
“Even if the party was thinking, we want to rally around our most vulnerable openings, it still doesn’t make sense,” said Nadia Brown, a professor of politics and African American studies at Purdue University. “What about Iowa? What about Maine? What are you doing, DNC?”
The DNC called the email a “mistake,” in a statement to The Lily.
“We are extremely proud of the diverse field of candidates all across this country, and have seen a record number of women elected up and down the ballot,” wrote DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa. “We're committed to doing everything we can to help ensure victory for all of our women candidates. We are working quickly to correct this mistake and it won't happen again.”
It’s hard to understand how this kind of “mistake” can occur at a major national organization, said Rodericka Applewhaite, who worked for Emily’s List, a political action committee dedicated to backing women who support abortion rights, from 2017 to 2019. At Emily’s List — another large Democratic organization, like the DNC — Applewhaite was often involved in vetting emails that would go out to the group’s listserv.
“These emails don’t get autonomously written and sent,” she said. “They touch multiple departments. It is crazy to me that, in 2020, this email gets by.”
Barbara Bollier, a Kansas state senator, is another Democratic challenger in a tight race, who could have benefited from promotion from the DNC. Bollier, who is fiscally conservative and switched over from the Republican Party after the 2016 election, has a good shot at winning a seat in a state that has not had a Democratic senator since 1939. While Bollier won’t compete in the primary until August, she is the only major Democratic contender.
The DNC list also failed to mention two female incumbents who are up for reelection in 2020, Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H).
Amy McGrath, Sara Gideon, and M.J. Hegar are also running competitive Senate campaigns in Kentucky, Maine and Texas, respectively, but will be facing serious Democratic challengers in their primaries. McGrath and Hegar, both white women, will face black men in the Democratic primary. One DNC staffer implied this was part of the reason neither woman was promoted in the email.
There are very few women of color mounting competitive Senate races this year, said Brown, who struggled to identify anyone. This isn’t entirely surprising, she said, especially considering that there have only ever been two black women in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.). The Democratic Party has repeatedly failed women of color, and especially black women, said Brown, generally refusing to throw support behind candidates until after the primaries.
“We know it’s so important particularly for women and minorities to have early money,” said Brown. When Brown interviews black women about their experience running for local and statewide elections, she says, she will often ask whether they had much help from the DNC.
“Their one word answer is ‘no,’” she says.
This pattern is particularly frustrating because the DNC speaks so often about the importance of diversity, Brown says, emphasizing their commitment to electing women and especially women of color. The DNC did include two men of color in Tuesday’s email: Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M), who is running in New Mexico, and Jamie Harrison, former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, who is running in South Carolina.
“This is one of the lowest bar ways you can show that you are living your values,” said Applewhaite, referring to the fundraising email. “As Democrats, we are supposed to promote diverse tickets. It seems super easy to just have your content team drop a graphic for these women and include them with all the men.”
An email like this has real consequences, she says. When they’re deciding who to support around the country, most Democratic donors don’t have time to research every individual candidate.
“The DNC should be a one-stop shop,” said Applewhaite. “My mom, for example, only donates [based on] the DNC letters she gets.”
That money only flows to the people who are mentioned, she said.
On Tuesday, those donations went to a slate of mostly white men.