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N.H. Training Program Teaches Female Candidates Campaign Basics

Dec 27, 2017
Originally published on December 27, 2017 6:38 am
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Five years ago, New Hampshire became the first state with an all-female congressional delegation. But women are still underrepresented in politics nationwide. They make up just 1 in 5 members of Congress. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben recently went to Manchester, N.H., where women were getting trained in the basics of campaigning for office.

KATE COYNE-MCCOY: I want you to think to yourself, I'm a candidate. And when you're a candidate, you begin to collect people.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: On a Saturday morning, Kate Coyne-McCoy is in a small conference room with an audience of 26 women. She's a trainer with the Democratic group Emily's List, and she's explaining what fires her up to do this job.

COYNE-MCCOY: I wake up sort of every day. The first thing I do is look at this list of members of Congress that I have, and I figure out who's sick and who's going to die.

(LAUGHTER)

COYNE-MCCOY: ...Because I want to replace them with you.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZLEBEN: McCoy has been training candidates since 2001. Today, a big part of that training is encouragement.

COYNE-MCCOY: I believe that the country's going to hell in a clutch purse and that you are the answer.

KURTZLEBEN: Trainings like this one have proliferated in the last year. In 2016, prior to Election Day, just 1,000 women even reached out to Emily's List saying they were interested in running for office. Since Election Day, 25,000 women have reached out to the group. And this year, Emily's List has already trained 2,500 women. On top of that, still, other groups dedicated to training women candidates have sprouted around the country. Debra Altschiller is one of this morning's attendees. She has already won an election to New Hampshire's State House in 2016.

DEBRA ALTSCHILLER: Every blind squirrel gets a nut every once in a while, and I wanted to make sure that it wasn't just me as a blind squirrel. I know that I'd done some of the right things, but, you know, I was making it up as I went along and so was our team.

KURTZLEBEN: Altschiller already heard lessons today on how to work a room, talk to voters and prepare her family for a campaign. But she's also looking forward to improving her fundraising skills.

ALTSCHILLER: Asking for money is not my forte, so I need to learn how to do that more effectively. I did do it. I was wildly uncomfortable doing it, but I did it. And there's got to be a better way to do that.

KURTZLEBEN: Altschiller and the two dozen others here this morning are part of a much larger uptick in women's political involvement. The number of women candidates for the U.S. House alone has nearly doubled its 2016 level, according to Debbie Walsh. She's the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

DEBBIE WALSH: This is a surge. We're seeing it in the House. We're seeing it in the Senate. We're also seeing it for governor. This is unprecedented, and it is real.

KURTZLEBEN: Walsh helps her organization run bipartisan trainings, but she says this surge is overwhelmingly among Democrats. To her, the reason for this wave - well, it's pretty obvious.

WALSH: The outcome of the 2016 presidential election - both the combination of Hillary Clinton losing and Donald Trump getting elected.

KURTZLEBEN: Again and again, women coming here cited Donald Trump's election. For Altschiller, the allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct against Trump - allegations he has denied - are a big part of her drive.

ALTSCHILLER: I mean, there can't be any larger motivation.

KURTZLEBEN: Shelby Guzzetta is a teacher who lives in Boston and has never run for office. She says she took Hillary Clinton's loss especially hard, and she remembers the conversation among her girlfriends the night after the election.

SHELBY GUZZETTA: As we were talking to each other, like, consoling each other, we started talking about, like, well, why don't more women run? And, like, why couldn't you run or why couldn't I run? And I think that was kind of just, like, a moment for me where it kind of planted the seed.

KURTZLEBEN: Encouragement from other people is important in getting women to run for office, Debbie Walsh said. She points to research suggesting that a big reason why women are underrepresented in politics is that they simply don't run as often as men.

WALSH: We've consistently found that the men are more likely to wake up one morning, look in the mirror and say they'd be a great elected official. And the women are more likely to say that they ran the first time because somebody recruited them.

KURTZLEBEN: Guzzetta just might be a case study in how well recruitment can work. The night before the training, she was thinking it might be six years or more before she ran for office. She wanted to move back to Indiana, where she's from, and finish law school first. But just partway through the training, that was changing.

GUZZETTA: Given some of the presentations, I've been thinking, maybe I want to get involved sooner than I was originally thinking - maybe even, you know, in the next couple of years - and then kind of see where that goes.

KURTZLEBEN: If trainings like this are effective, they won't just inspire women like Guzzetta to run. They'll teach them how to win. Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News, Manchester, N.H.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'INDECIS' "STAYING THERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.