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The Midterms Will Be Crucial for Women. Why Are So Many Disengaged?

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The pandemic turned many American women’s lives upside down. At the height of the Covid outbreak, women were more likely to be the service workers who lost their jobs and the essential workers who had to continue to show up. Millions of women dropped out of the workforce, and more than a year later nearly 2 million still haven’t returned. Many caregivers, who are disproportionately women, still don’t have reliable childcare.

As a result, it’s women who arguably stand to gain and lose the most in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. And three women who lead some of the largest progressive political organizations are trying to make sure they aren’t missing an opportunity with those voters. For a Women Rule roundtable, I recently convened Stefanie Brown James, co-founder and senior adviser at the Collective PAC, which supports Black candidates running for federal, state and local office; Maria Teresa Kumar, co-founder and CEO of Voto Latino, a group that registers Latino voters; and Jessica Floyd, president of American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal super PAC. Each of these groups is gearing up to try to keep Congress in Democratic control two years after an election showed just how much they have to fight for every seat and every demographic group they’ve come to rely on.

We talked about how women in crucial swing states seem to like President Joe Biden, but also don’t have as much time or energy to keep up with politics post-Donald Trump; the two kinds of suburban women voters we learned about in 2020; whether Democrats have improved their messaging to voters of color; and how they should support Black women running for office. All of the participants agreed that if women voters have become less politically engaged with Trump out of office, they should start paying attention again now. “What I remind people is … we have a reprieve,” said Kumar, “but we are in the eye of the storm.”

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Katelyn Fossett: I wanted to start by asking about the two most interesting congressional races that you’re watching right now. I’ll start with Maria Teresa.

Maria Teresa Kumar: For me, it’s always about Texas and what’s happening in Texas and, in this case, also what we’re going to see in New Mexico.

The 23rd congressional district [along the Texas-Mexico border] is the one that always seems to be swinging back and forth. And it was one of those surprising districts in 2020. [Democrat] Gina Ortiz Jones did not win, and we are digging more into that. What exactly happened? Who were these voters that came out and surprised all of us? And by all of us, I don’t just mean Voto Latino, but Emily’s List and on down the line. So, that’s one.

And the other is where [Democratic] Representative Xochitl Torres Small came from in New Mexico, because she won that district, again, by a razor-thin margin [in 2018] and it went back to a Republican Tea Party-type of person. So, where is the daylight there? You have someone who was affirming gun rights, who was tuned into everything in her district, and yet it flipped to someone who is so extreme on the political spectrum.

Stefanie Brown James: For the Collective PAC, our overall goal is to continue to make history. There are so many firsts that we are still seeking — which is absolutely incredible, that in 2021 and 2022, we could possibly see historic elections of Black leaders in office that have never been there before. So, to me, the spotlight is on the Senate right now. We currently have no Black women serving in the U.S. Senate. We’ve only ever had two in American history. And so we are very much laser-focused on making sure Cheri Beasley becomes the next U.S. senator from North Carolina and Congresswoman Val Demings represents Florida in the Senate. Those are our two priority races.

Jessica Floyd: What we’re focused on is the fact that 2010 was such a bloodbath during those midterms for Democrats. How do we change that dynamic? And so to do that, we’re really focused on particular geographies where there are marquee Senate races, as well as those gubernatorial races and House delegations that, regardless of how redistricting shakes out, are going to help determine the balance of power in the House. So, places like Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina. … North Carolina doesn’t have a gubernatorial race but does have the other two. … What we know happened in 2009 was this concerted effort that led to sort of the rise of the Tea Party in August of 2009, defining the terms of the debate for those midterms. And so that’s why we’re already up on air in three of those states, talking about what Democrats are doing and the agenda in order to set those terms now, rather than wait for next year.

Fossett: And what kind of focus grouping has your organization been doing on the ground in those states among women?

Floyd: We’ve done pretty extensive both quantitative as well as qualitative research in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, focused solely on women voters. And what we see is Biden is popular. He’s actually more popular than some of the national polling that we’re seeing. Fifty-seven percent are viewing him favorably across those four states among women voters.

But we also see that about 49 percent of women that we surveyed are paying less attention to politics than they were during the Trump years. I think we all probably feel emotionally like we would like to take a step back from the chaos that was the Trump administration. But when you look at the policy, and what that means for us as communicators to those women, we need to be talking that much more, that much earlier, that much more consistently to those women to show what the Biden administration and congressional Democrats are doing for them.

Kumar: One of the things that we’ve done as a result — because we’re seeing that people are getting detached, and part of it is everybody is just spent — is we have a partnership with Common Sense Media [an organization that promotes safe technology and media for children and families], and we’re speaking specifically to women in Arizona and Georgia around the child tax credit, because there’s just not an understanding of what that is and how that benefits them. So, we saw a lot of, “We’re not even applying for it,” [voters] thinking that they couldn’t get it because they may not have an existing filing with the IRS or what have you. So, the communications part that Jessica is speaking about is really necessary. …

Similarly, though, one of the biggest findings we learned last year with Voto Latino was this way of attracting new voters through attribution modeling [a marketing concept that identifies the touchpoints that influence a consumer to make a purchase] … We’ve identified individual voters who are on the fence, who are........

© Politico

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