With Congress up for grabs, Democratic women are banding together and building momentum for the midterms

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (l), Deb Haaland (c), and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (l). 
Key Points
  • As Democrats push to take back the House from Republicans in 2018, women have been at the forefront of the movement.
  • Now, as they hit milestones in their primary elections, many of them are stumping and even fundraising for each other as they seek midterm victory for their party and their gender in November.
  • This collaborative approach to politics is not unprecedented. But in an election year that has seen a record number of female candidates, alliances among them have increased in profile and extent.

As Democrats push to take back the House from Republicans in 2018, women have been at the forefront of the movement.

That trend continued in Tuesday's primaries. Minnesota state lawmaker Ilhan Omar is now poised to be one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. In Connecticut, Jahana Hayes won her primary and is looking to become her state's first black congresswoman.

Now, while they hit milestones in their primary elections, many female Democratic candidates are stumping and fundraising for each other as they seek victory this November.

This kind of collaborative approach to politics is not unprecedented. But in an election year that has seen a record number of female candidates, alliances among them have increased in profile and extent.

Take Michigan state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who won the Democratic nomination to replace longtime Rep. John Conyers, who resigned last year after sexual harassment allegations. A daughter of Palestinian immigrants, she was the first Muslim woman ever elected to Michigan's legislature and could soon become the first-ever Muslim congresswoman.

Tlaib is running unopposed for the House seat and is using her newfound influence to help others achieve similar success. The 42-year-old Detroit native, who defeated several opponents in the primary, raised over $1 million, mostly from individual donors, according to FEC filings. Tlaib's next mission is to raise money for other progressives, her campaign told CNBC.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib.
Al Goldis

"Rashida doesn't love fundraising. She'd always rather be knocking on doors. But she knows how important making those calls and securing those dollars is to winning grassroots elections," campaign manager Andy Goddeeris said.

Among candidates Tlaib is helping is Minnesota's Omar, the first Somali-American legislator in the U.S., who is running for Congress in Minnesota. Omar won her primary Tuesday.

Several other Muslim women are also running for Congress in districts where primaries have not yet occurred, including Deedra Abboud, who is running for Senate in Arizona, and Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, who is running for a House seat in Massachusetts.

Deb Haaland of New Mexico could be another candidate to break down barriers. After winning her Democratic primary, Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe, may become the first Native American woman in Congress.

She is favored to win against Republican Janice Arnold-Jones in November in a solidly Democratic district. Haaland has raised over $1 million in mostly out-of-district donations, according to public records.

She is one of a record number of Native American women running for office this year. Now, she is galvanizing Native American female Democrats and raising money for female candidates across the country.

Haaland worked on Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008 before chairing the state's Democratic Party. She said that many of the progressive female candidates share similar values and should be "lifting each other up."

Debra Haaland, a Democratic candidate for Congress, speaks at her Albuquerque, N.M., headquarters on Monday, June 4, 2018, as volunteers seek last minute voters for the Democratic nomination for an open Congressional seat in central New Mexico.
Russell Contreras | AP

She plans to canvass for a throng of candidates before the general election, including Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico, Gina Ortiz Jones in Texas, Angie Craig in Minnesota and Lauren Underwood in Illinois, the campaign told CNBC.

Haaland will also visit Idaho to raise money for Paulette Jordan, who would be the first Native American and the first woman to become Idaho's governor.

Another woman on Haaland's list is Sharice Davids, who after a tight primary win could also become one of the first Native American women in Congress and the first lesbian congresswoman from Kansas. Davids told CNBC she is supporting four different female Democrats up for state House seats in Kansas — including Laura Smith-Everett in District 17 and Angela Justus Schweller in District 14.

Davids' own path to victory could be steep in a suburban Kansas City toss-up district that Hillary Clinton carried by a slim margin in 2016. She has raised $344,704 for her campaign so far. Her opponent, GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder, has raised $2,727,430 and has over 10 times the amount of cash on hand for the November election, according to public filings.

Sharice Davids, a Democrat running for Congress in Kansas, talks to supporters at a July 4 event in Prairie Village. 
David Weigel | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Nonetheless, Davids said that if women "want to accomplish meaningful and lasting systemic changes, it's critical that we all work together to fight for progress."

Glitches in the narrative

There have been some glitches in the narrative this year, however. Davids, for example, didn't get support from one of the highest-profile winners of 2018, New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The New Yorker instead backed David's male rival, Brent Welder, in the Kansas primary. Welder ran to the left of Davids and was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Following her stunning primary upset over 10-term incumbent Joseph Crowley in New York, Ocasio-Cortez saw an explosion of out-of-state campaign contributions, according to FEC reports. She immediately began throwing support behind other progressives, both men and women.

A 28-year-old socialist activist, woman of color and political newcomer, Cortez said that her primary win, like Tlaib's, was not a "fluke," but a result of progressive female candidates organizing, connecting with activists, and "knocking on thousands of doors."

"Progressive female candidates are getting energized and organized all across the country at all levels of government, because we have seen that you're not considered 'viable' until you organize your neighbors and make it happen," she said.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 

Emily's List, one of the nation's most powerful political action committees that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women, has been at odds with the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The fundraising juggernaut has not endorsed some of the more left-leaning candidates, such as Cortez and Cynthia Nixon, who is running for governor of New York against incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo.

Emily's List is throwing its weight behind many other candidates, though, including those in Pennsylvania, where a record number of women are running for House seats in efforts to flip an all-male congressional delegation.

Emily's List backed candidates Mary Gay Scanlon in the 7th District and Madeleine Dean in the 4th District. Both won their primaries, and they are now favored to carry their districts in November. Scanlon won in a field that included five other women, which is the largest number of female Democrats in any congressional primary race this year.

"We're making our own playbooks," Scanlon said. "What works with an all-male delegation doesn't necessarily work for women."

The winners are offering a range of support, from raising money to building name recognition, or sharing ideas through a group text for the female candidates in the state. Scanlon, who has raised over $1 million for her campaign, has along with Dean received most of her funding from individual donors.

"The candidates are collaborating, and the people of Pennsylvania are rallying around the fact that there are no women in Congress here. Everyone's on board to help each other," Dean's campaign said.