WASHINGTON — Emily’s List, one of the most influential women’s groups in national politics, has hired a former state legislative leader from Maine to be its executive director with the aim of helping scores of female candidates prevail in next year’s midterm elections.
Emily Cain, who helped lead fellow Democrats to the majority in the Maine House of Representatives in 2010, has been tapped to try to do the same for Democrats nationally at the helm of Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic women to offices ranging from city councils to the presidency.
Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, said that the election of President Donald Trump has spurred scores of women around the country to run for office and that she thinks Cain will be able to help novice candidates develop winning strategies, as she did in Maine.
“There is an incredible wave of women’s energy and leadership on the ground to stop Trump,” Schriock said. “We’re watching women resist across the country, whether in town halls or phone calls or marching and now running. … Emily brings with her something that’s so incredibly important, which is a real understanding of what it is to be a candidate.”
Cain served 10 years in the Maine House and Senate. In the 2010 election cycle, Cain served as minority leader in the Maine House and led the Democratic effort to win the majority.
“There was no playbook in that moment, kind of how there is no playbook for right now,” she said.
Cain twice ran for a seat in Congress, in 2014 and 2016. Both times she lost to U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, in Maine’s rural 2nd Congressional District, which supported Trump last year. Cain said she believes her experiences campaigning in Trump country will help her relate to candidates in similarly red districts across the nation.
“My hope is I’ll have instant credibility with the candidates we talk to across the country because I’ve been there,” she said. “The opportunity for us is not only to win seats that have been traditionally Democratic, but to do everything we can to meet the voters in the Trump-won districts — to connect with them, hear their stories and meet their needs.”
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said Cain stood out as enthusiastic, outgoing and “one of the hardest-working campaigners I’ve ever known.”
“It’s one thing to pontificate by standing back and analyzing something, but when you’ve been through a race and understand what messages work, which ones don’t, what the voters are expressing out there — it’s not a good time when your district goes for Donald Trump, but she learned a lot from that experience,” Pingree said.
Cain, 37, lives in Maine, and she is the chief strategy officer of History IT, a technology company that focuses on digitization of archives and other historical collections. She will move to Washington to take on the job with Emily’s List.
National political groups often turn to Beltway insiders who have experience managing high-profile campaigns to fill key leadership roles. The last two executive directors of Emily’s List, Jessica O’Connell and Amy Dacey, had previously served in other political or policy roles in Washington — and both went on to work as chief executive of the Democratic National Committee.
But Schriock said Cain’s status as an outsider to Washington was appealing at this moment of political upheaval.
“I’ve met a lot of wonderful women in my time as the president of Emily’s List, and Emily has always been one who’s stood above so many — with her energy, her passion and her real commitment to seeing women in leadership at all levels of government,” Schriock said.
Among the women who have received support from Emily’s List is Stacey Abrams, the Georgia House minority leader who is a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018. Abrams said she met Cain at conferences, when each was minority leader of her respective legislature, and learned from her how to campaign in a Republican-leaning state.
“What Emily brings is a strong pragmatism that is balanced by having a very thoughtful understanding of the people she serves,” Abrams said. “She understands that for a lot of folks, the question of the Trump era is what will it do to them and how will it hurt them.”
Abrams added: “She’s young and thoughtful, but she’s also very experienced and aggressive. What we need in this moment is someone who can see opportunities and leverage them.”