If progressive groups are relying on turning women's rage into electoral victories this cycle, a list targeting the members of Congress who are, in their words, "worst for women" certainly helps.
On August 7, American Bridge, a left-leaning political action committee, and UltraViolet, a women's advocacy group, launched their "Worst for Women" campaign, calling out 15 sitting members of Congress they say have dubious track records on women's issues. The groups drew up their rankings based on representatives' and senators' votes on the Affordable Care Act, GOP tax legislation, defunding Planned Parenthood, abortion rights, wage increases, and workers' rights.
The list includes some prominent names: There's Representative Steve King, the Iowa congressman best known for presenting his six-week abortion ban—the first federal legislation of its kind—with accompanying ultrasound audio and video. Also on the list is Florida Representative Ron DeSantis, who recently called congressional candidate and rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez "this girl…or whatever she is." DeSantis has also voted against equal pay protections opposed reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. One woman representative, Georgia Congresswoman Karen Handel, made the list for her attacks on Planned Parenthood and the country's federal family-planning program.
"These 15 candidates have worked to push forward extreme anti-woman agendas that are flat-out toxic and dangerous to women across the country—particularly low-income women and women of color," Shaunna Thomas, the executive director of UltraViolet PAC, tells Broadly. "That’s why we’re calling them what they really are: 'Worst for Women.'
"Many of these candidates are in competitive races and they are going to lose because of their records," Thomas continues. "Voters are not going to elect people that leverage their power to undermine women's lives and livelihoods."
One of those competitive races is happening in Nebraska's 2nd congressional district, where Republican incumbent Don Bacon—also named to the "Worst for Women" list—will face off against first-time candidate Kara Eastman in November.
"I am not surprised Don Bacon made the "Worst for Women" list," Eastman tells Broadly. He's consistently worked against women during his time in Congress. He's voted to defund Planned Parenthood. He voted for the [American Health Care Act], which would have allowed health insurers to avoid covering maternity care or to charge exorbitant costs for maternity coverage. He even voted to block a bill that would have made it illegal to discriminate against women who had made difficult reproductive health choice."
Bacon's office did not immediately respond to Broadly's request for comment.
Despite Bacon's history of voting against women's interests, Eastman received no backing from big-name women's organizations—like EMILY's List and NARAL Pro-Choice—or Democrats going into her primary. Instead, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the body responsible for electing Democrats to the House, backed Brad Ashford, a state legislator with an anti-choice voting record. But Eastman defeated Ashford anyway, landing the first major blow to the Democratic establishment this cycle and sending a powerful message about where voters' interests lie. Groups like American Bridge and UltraViolet are taking note.
“Women are poised to play a key role in November," Thomas said in a June 7 press release. "We don't intend to let that opportunity slip by."
Earlier this year, American Bridge found that women voters want to back candidates who align with their views on the #MeToo movement and reproductive freedom. According to the group's findings, these issues are driving "historic voter enthusiasm" this cycle. Other PACS, like #VOTEPROCHOICE, have recognized how important a candidate's stance on abortion rights in particular is to voters, especially during a time when Roe v. Wade appears to hang perilously in the balance. #VOTEPROCHOICE launched a voter guide earlier this year that one could consider the opposite of the "Worst for Women" list—instead, it helps voters find the candidates with the most progressive stances on choice.
"When choice is on the ballot, voters head to the polls in droves," #VOTEPROCHOICE CEO and co-founder Heidi Seick, wrote in a June op-ed for The Hill. "This is, quite simply, a battle for control over women's bodies. And right now, conservatives are winning. It’s time to fight back."
Eastman is one of the candidates #VOTEPROCHOICE has endorsed.
"Women deserve representatives in government who will stand up for a woman's right to make personal reproductive decisions in private and respect their desire to keep these decisions between themselves, their doctors, their family and their faith," Eastman says. "I will always defend a woman's right to choose and will support women as they continue to fight for equality and fair representation."