How paid leave won in the midterms.

Nov 16, 2018 · 5 min read

As the 2018 election results continue to wrap-up one thing is crystal clear: PL+US and other family leave advocates have succeeded in elevating the national profile of paid family leave and made it a winning issue politically.

Our direct political engagement from the 501(c)4 PL+US Action Fund and issue education from the 501(c)3 PL+US has resulted in a record number of candidates endorsing paid family leave including Champions who made it a priority issue in the election.

Here’s how we did it:

Throughout the 2018 election, PL+US and the The Action Fund engaged in unprecedented outreach to candidates in the most hotly contested and closely watch races. This is the first time this has been done at a national scale and the results were very exciting:

  • We educated and endorsed: The Action Fund created the nation’s first ever endorsed list of Paid Family Leave Champions by asking candidates to make robust paid family leave a part of their platform and campaign. 30 of our Champions are now headed into office and represent an exciting new wave of leadership.
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  • We supported Champions: We ran persuasion ads for three big winners (Jacky Rosen, Colin Allred, Cindy Axne), drove donations from our members to a paid family leave Champion who was under attack, and amplified Champions through social and PR.
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  • We won: The results are clear: paid family leave is an issue that wins! In the 75 most highly contested races, our champions had a remarkable 64% win rate. That exceeds the win rate for women candidates (57%), non-champion democrats (47%), and candidates who endorsed Medicare for All (38%).

2018 saw unprecedented energy and turnout from voters. And while exit polls show that health care was the #1 issue for these voters, paid family leave did rise to become the central issue in a few key races around the country from New Hampshire to Colorado.

  • In New Hampshire, with the leadership of the New Hampshire Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, paid family leave became one of the top issues in the gubernatorial race, with Democrat Molly Kelly accusing incumbent Governor Chris Sununu of breaking his 2016 promise to make paid family leave a reality. Sununu on the campaign trail said he would support an opt-in system, and was reelected by 7 points.
  • In the District of Columbia, corporate lobbyists heavily funded a challenger to oppose Elissa Silverman for her support of the paid family leave bill as well as other progressive issues. When she was removed from the ballot due to insufficient valid signatures, the mayor hand-picked a candidate (Dionne Reeder) to endorse and help funnel outside campaign donations to, quickly outpacing Silverman in donations. Unions, the local DC Paid Family Leave Coalition, and the Working Families Party rallied behind Silverman; an independent expenditure erected signs that said, “Save Paid Family Leave: Don’t Vote for Dionne Reeder.” Silverman won re-election handily, garnering twice as many votes as Reeder.
  • In Colorado, state legislative candidates who had voted for paid family leave were targeted with a deceptive mailer that categorized their vote as a massive tax hike that fact checked as being “grossly inaccurate.” The sponsor of the bill in the State House, Faith Winter, won her bid for the State Senate, helping to flip the chamber. She has promised that paid family leave will be a top priority. Colorado’s newly elected governor, Jared Polis, spoke about paid family and medical leave as a key part of his economic, health care, workers, and women’s platform agendas.
  • In Connecticut, the Working Families Party made paid family leave a core part of their ground game, State Senator-elect Julie Kushner door-knocked on the issue (and collected thousands of petition signatures) and Ned Lamont campaigned early and often on the issue.
  • In Vermont’s gubernatorial race, candidate Christine Hallquist campaigned on a platform that included paid family leave as one of her top priority issues.
  • In Maine, efforts by PL+US led to debate and forum moderators asking the gubernatorial candidates about paid family leave.
  • In congressional races in California’s 45th and New York’s 19th, literature and ads touted the candidates support of paid family leave.
  • In Nebraska, Deb Fischer touted her sponsorship of the paid family leave tax credit bill that was written into the 2017 tax bill.

The Path Forward

The 2018 election demonstrated that PL+US can make critical interventions in the closest and most important races in the nation at every level of government. Our strategy moving forward is clear:

  • Congressional focus: As Roll Call identified, paid family leave is one of the few issues that can move in a split congress. PL+US has identified key committee members in the Senate and House that can move paid family leave out of committee. Everything we do in 2019 and 2020 will focus on applying grassroots and grasstops pressure on those members so that paid family leave becomes a reality by 2022.
  • Strategic state engagement: PL+US has identified opportunities in Louisiana, Maine, Ohio, Iowa, and California to move the national conversation on paid family leave forward and generate pressure on key members of congress.
  • Grow for 2020: The work we do now will be critical to achieving success in 2020 and beyond. We are committed to building and funding the PL+US Action Fund and a PAC to ensure that paid family leave is a priority issue for every candidate in the 2020 election.

Paid family leave is at a tipping point nationally. Every action we take now will be critical to ensuring that we can capitalize on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to win a federal paid family leave policy by 2022. Here at PL+US and the Action Fund we recognize our narrow window for success and have a unique plan to capitalize on the momentum we’ve built.

By acting now we can ensure that paid family leave has momentum in both chambers of congress by 2020, positioning it as a central issue in the next presidential election. From there, we can realize a historic victory for families across the nation.

This is the moment to invest in paid leave advocacy so we can win policy that will impact 114 million Americans — a big and visionary investment in families. This unprecedented momentum will pass us by if we don’t act now.

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