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Morning Shift

100 Women Headed To Congress, Making History

Democrats weren’t the only ones to dominate on election night; women won big too, making history.

The 2018 midterms saw a record 237 women running for office--and about 100 will go on to serve in Congress.

And some didn’t do it alone. They were trained for this.

The Women’s Campaign School at Yale University provides nonpartisan, issue-neutral training for women interested in running for political office--including Lauren Underwood, congresswoman-elect for Illinois’ 14th District, and a political newbie who beat out longtime Republican Congressman Randy Hultgren.

As women across the country rise up to take office, what challenges might they face, and how are those barriers shifting? Morning Shift talks to Patti Russo, director of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University. Congresswoman-elect Lauren Underwood also weighs in with her experience on the campaign trail.

GUESTS: Patti Russo, director, Women’s Campaign School, Yale University

Lauren Underwood, U.S. congresswoman-elect, Illinois 14th district

What’s Motivating Women to Move into Politics?

Patti Russo: I like to say that every day, in every way, Donald Trump inspires more and more women to jump into the political pipeline. [At the Women’s Campaign School] we definitely saw our own surge after the results of the 2016 presidential [election], and it really hasn’t stopped since. We started to see women, right after the global Women’s March, calling us and emailing us in record numbers like never before. “I’m mad, I marched, I want to run for office. Help me get ready.” So much so that, in addition to our five-day program at Yale Law School, which we hold annually in June, we created a whole new level of training for women who have a newly-discovered passion for politics, but don’t quite have the foundations or the skill set to launch their political careers.

How Does the Women’s Campaign School Work?

Russo: The program mimics the energy of a political campaign, so it’s really for women who have previous political experience, who have, clearly, a passion for politics and want to know all the skills and techniques that it would take to run an effective, successful campaign. Our program is held at Yale Law School….Everything you need to run an effective, successful campaign we provide in our five-day intensive. Our program is run by Democratic and Republican faculty who have worked on presidential campaigns, congressional campaigns--that’s the caliber of who we have working with our students….We break our students up into small groups, and we randomly put together Democrats, Republicans, Independents, international women...and we have them work on a political case study….And then at the end of the week we have all our groups make presentations before a Democratic and Republican judge.

Challenges of Being a First-Time Candidate

Lauren Underwood: As a first-time candidate, the consultants, the staff--there were significant requirements for financial outlay, that I as a regular, middle-class person couldn’t take on myself….My experience with campaign school let me anticipate what norms could be. Right, so I shouldn’t have to pay for a mail firm before I actually send out mail. I shouldn’t have to pay a media consultant to write a press release for me, where if I had not had that experience, I might have entered into those agreements, which would have been pretty difficult, financially, to maneuver. Second, I would say, is knowing key staff hires. One of the great opportunities this cycle is that there were so many competitive seats for the Democratic side, and there were several Democrats running in each election. So I ran in the Illinois 14th district, but in my primary there were seven of us. So that means there were seven candidates all looking for staff, all looking for volunteers, and it was hard to find resumes, but I was able to hire Women’s Campaign School graduates to work on my campaign, because I knew that they were trained, and knew that they were coming in with the requisite experience.

LEARN MORE: New 'Year of the Woman'? Over 100 female candidates set to win seats in Congress, make history (USA Today 11/6/18)

A Record Number Of Women Will Serve In Congress (With Potentially More To Come (NPR 11/7/18)

How Women Won Big in the Midterms (New Yorker11/7/18)

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