STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: At a time of crippling partisan polarization, it's the message of public service that made the difference for a handful of Democrats who won in heavily red districts — and in some cases flipped districts carried by President Trump during the 2016 election.
That's according to Democratic Reps. Abigail Spanberger (Va.), Elaine Luria (Va.), Mikie Sherrill (N.J.), Chrissy Houlahan (Penn.) and Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), who make up a record number of women veterans and service members elected to Congress in 2018. They forged a bond given their backgrounds -- ranging from military to CIA and Pentagon-- which carried over to their new gigs on Capitol Hill.
Now, they're formalizing their relationship — through fundraising. The lawmakers are launching a first-of-its-kind joint fundraising effort — dubbed the Service First Women’s Victory Fund — to raise money for the set of five lawmakers.
Focus on vets: New Politics, a bipartisan organization that recruits candidates from the military and intelligence communities, is facilitating the effort. The lawmakers plan to fundraise together and split the money.
“Through fundraising, speaking events, and policy discussions, the Service First Women's Victory Fund will help amplify the voice of women service leaders in office, encourage more women service veterans to run for office, and build the next generation of political leadership,” New Politics said in a statement.
The key: “Every man for himself, every woman together,” joked Luria, a Navy veteran.
State the obvious: “It's to keep our seats,” Luria added.
In a freshman class that features a number of progressive rising stars known for their high volume and sometimes-controversial social media presences, it’s easy to miss this gang of self-described worker bees with an aversion to adversarial tweeting. Over bagels and coffee last Friday, the group of female lawmakers described their lower-key style as a product of what their constituents are craving.
Without naming names, Slotkin told reporters that figuring out the difference between “who are the work horses and who are the show ponies” cemented their bond.
“We came into this knowing each other already and knowing instinctually that these are the work horses and that I’m going to do something with this group,” said Slotkin, a former CIA analyst and Department of Defense official. “Whereas sometimes if you go into other rooms in Congress, you can see that some people are worried about the messaging more than the substance.”
“From my perspective, there has been an overwhelming focus on a small number of members in our caucus who did not flip seats, who did not help win the House, who are doing what is right for their districts but don’t represent my districts,” Slotkin added. “People here in Michigan — we want more pragmatic voices sticking up for us. And we don’t see enough of that.”
A survey commissioned by New Politics shows that public service matters quite a bit to voters in both parties.
“A 64 percent majority of self-ascribed Democrats find this very important, 56 percent among self-ascribed Republicans,” found the survey provided to Power Up. Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies surveyed 1200 registered voters in August last year.
Answer to divisive politics?: “Voters prefer service candidates over other types of candidates because service candidates offer an answer to divisive politics. Obviously, voters find service edifying, but the main reason voters prefer service candidates speaks more to our political times. The single most important trait voters look for now in a candidate is, 'Someone willing to work with people from both parties to solve problems,' (58 percent pick this as one of their two leading traits) higher even than agreement on issues (38 percent)," per a memo accompanying the poll.
This aligns with the traits that voters see in service candidates: Fifty-seven percent of voters associate candidates with military experience as used to “working with a team to accomplish something,” per the poll. And 50 percent associate the candidate as being honest and having integrity.
The lawmakers acknowledge their quiet approach can make it tougher to get attention — and get out the message for their more moderate policy proposals.
“There is a tension there between wanting to get the message out but representing people who don’t like showboats,” Slotkin said.
“[W]e’re not going to tweet about the president provocatively because we want attention,” said Houlahan, a former United States Air Force officer. “I think that would work but that’s not who we are who our communities are or what our democracy is about . . . We hope to broadcast more broadly our message.”
“If I start a Twitter war with a colleague or something or just say something emotionally outrageous that doesn’t move the ball along, then I can’t go to a Republican in a meeting and say, 'hey can you cop-sponsor my legislation?'” Spanberger, a former CIA officer, said.
And this group has advice for candidates seeking to win in Republican districts even as the party drifts leftward during the Democratic presidential primary.
Avoid pie-in-the-sky proposals: “Don’t just have broad sweeping statements about really shiny objects in the sky that actually don’t do anything. People want pragmatic solutions — at least in Pennsylvania.”
Build a broad coalition: “All of us won by building broad coalitions across our district and that’s what a presidential candidate has to do to when and you do that by focusing critically on the things that will help families across our country,” said Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot.