Liuba Grechen Shirley attracted national attention when she persuaded federal election officials to allow her to use money she raised for her 2018 congressional campaign to pay for babysitting expenses.
She still lost her 2018 House campaign. So did the six other women with children under 2 who ran for Congress last year, she said, in spite of what has been universally recognized as a watershed moment for women in politics.
Grechen Shirley is convinced that’s not a coincidence. So on Wednesday, she launched a political action committee aimed at helping mothers with young children run for office, calling it Vote Mama.
“When I first started to think about running for Congress, one of my biggest hesitations was how was I going to run with a 1- and 3-year old,” she said. “Women with children, especially women with young children, face unique challenges.”Watch: First 2020 Senate race ratings are here
Only 25 women currently serving in Congress have children 18 or younger, compared to more than 100 men, according to numbers compiled by Vote Mama.
Grechen Shirley attributes that disparity to stereotypes about mothers that make it harder for women with young children to get the early support that can make or break a campaign.
“You are immediately discredited if you have young children,” she said. “People will say to a woman running with young children,’What will happen to your children.’ No one says that to a man.”
She cited a study from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation that found that voters still express concern over the ability of women candidates — particularly those with young children — to balance the competing priorities of their families and their constituents.
The FEC determination putting child care on par with other campaign expenses, announced in May, is expected to help by removing one barrier to middle class parents determining whether they can afford a run for office. But unfair concerns about whether mothers can handle the grind of a political campaign and stint in office persist.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, said those stereotypes can have lasting repercussions for female representation in Congress.
“Right now, a lot of moms wait until their children are grown before they run for political office,” Warren said in the announcement release. “Because they wait to get started, it’s harder for women to achieve leadership positions at the same rates as men.”
Vote Mama, is the first PAC focused on supporting young mothers., although several others, most notably the Democratic EMILY’s List, work to elect women in general. Vote Mama will endorse progressive mothers who support abortion rights, paid family leave, and universal pre-kindergarten. It will also provide mentorship by connecting candidates with mothers who have run.
It will work with an advisory committee of female elected officials, including members of Congress, and leaders of organizations dedicated to electing women. The Congresswomen on the advisory board include Reps. Terri Sewell, D-Ala, Grace Meng, D-NY, Kim Schrier, D-Wash., Gwen Moore, D-Wis., and Katie Porter, D-Calif.