Long a Republican stronghold, California’s Central Valley is often at odds with the state’s more liberal coastal communities. But Democrats believe that demographic changes and the reaction to Donald Trump’s election have created some opportunities for them in the valley.
On a recent Saturday morning a group of women gathered in a community room in downtown Stockton. They were a diverse group made up of different races, ages and experiences. But they had a couple of things in common -- they’re Democrats and they all plan on running for office in the near future.
That’s why they were taking part in a training session by Emerge California, which helps Democratic women seeking public office. Today’s lesson? Fundraising. Finding enough money is often a barrier to women candidates, and Emerge trainer Jamie Maniscalco wanted to make something clear.
“You have to remember that, when you are raising money for your own campaign, you’re not asking for personal gifts," she told the women. "They are investing in you because they know that you’re going to have issues and values and vision that they can align with and support.”
Emerge trainings have been happening for more than a decade, but this is the first year California’s program has expanded into the Central Valley. As more people from the Bay Area move in and more Latinos register to vote, the valley’s becoming friendlier to Democrats. Emerge California Executive Director Maimuna Syed says that, since the 2016 election of Donald Trump, applications have increased about 87 percent statewide.
"Women from Fresno, from Bakersfield, from Sacramento, from Nevada County, from right here in Stockton and Modesto, started to apply to the program at a significantly higher number," she said.
Data from the Center for Responsive Politics bear that out. The center found more than 400 Democratic women have filed to run for federal office this year, up from about 230 in 2016. Women are also donating at higher levels, mainly to female Democratic candidates.
Still, even with the increased interest, it will take time to get more women elected. Many female candidates will face incumbents, who with all their advantages can be hard to beat. Data compiled by the firm GrassrootsLab show that, of the 92 candidates running for Central Valley city council or county seats in June, just 20 are women. Syed says women are under-represented at many levels.
“When we dig deep into some of the counties here," she said, "into some of these school boards, the water boards, there (is) no women representation on some of these smaller boards.”
Of the women who complete the Emerge training, more than half go on to actually run for office or get appointed to local boards or commissions. Of those who run, the organization says nearly 70 percent have won.
Myel Jenkins is hoping she’s among them. She’s running for San Juan Unified School Board in Sacramento County. Jenkins says she has always had a little thought in her head about running for office, but the 2016 election spurred her to finally act on it.
“As many Democratic women, I experienced moments of grief after the election," Jenkins said. "And really felt propelled to make a difference and in a way that I haven't been making a difference before.”
Studies show the difference comes from women’s unique leadership style -- more consensus, less need to take credit for success and a female take on issues like child care, education and health. But first, they have to get elected.