LUPE (Latinas United for Political Empowerment) is a non-partisan PAC dedicated to increasing Latina participation in the political process in the State of New Jersey; increasing the number of progressive Latinas in elected and appointed office; and promoting and supporting progressive Latinas running for local, state, and federal office. Recently, we chatted with Patricia Campos Medina, President of LUPE PAC, about first-time candidates, endorsements, and how critical it is to build relationships when running for office.
We’re seeing a record number of women running for office across the country, at all levels of office, many of them as first time candidates. Have you noticed an increase in the number of women seeking an endorsement from your PAC or otherwise running in New Jersey?
Yes, we have seen a great number of women running at the local level, from school board and city councils to mayors. In New Jersey, it’s hard to get to the state legislature because there’s so much party and county control, but at the local level, women feel more empowered to say “I can do this job and I can run.”
We’re seeing record number of women running this year and that’s encouraging for all of us. For a long time, it was hard to convince women that they could do it. Now, there’s more affirmation out there that yes, they can run for office. It’s exciting!
At what stage in the campaign or the decision to run should women reach out to LUPE? What kind of support do you offer them when they do?
We tell women that if you care about what’s going on in your community or your school or what kind of community you’re building for your family or children, you should be engaged politically. At LUPE, we have both the LUPE Fund, which does a lot of education and training, and we also have the PAC which picks up where the Fund leaves off.
The LUPE Fund was founded 15 years ago by a group of women who believe we needed to encourage more Latinas to run for public office. They began doing a series of trainings, called Elección Latina, together with the Center for American Women and Politics. Every spring, it’s part of Ready to Run, CAWP’s non-partisan campaign training program. I always tell women, if you’re thinking about running for office, if you have an inkling that you like public policy, come to our Ready to Run training. We give them a one-on-one about how to run for office.
Afterwards, if they are interested, they can apply for scholarships from the LUPE Fund to do other more in-depth trainings, like Emerge or NALEO. We also do policy forums for Latino legislative issues, and we hold meet and greets with Latina elected officials across the state so they can start to build those relationships. The number one thing that we tell the women who come to LUPE is that is that they have to build a network of other women to support them in their quest.
After they file to run for office, they can apply to the PAC for our endorsement. We have a commitment to support all the Latinas who come through our programs because we have a relationship with them, but we also support other Latinas who are running for office. We often tell women, if there’s an organization out there that is training Latina women leaders, reach out to them, engage with them, attend their events, and get to know people. The most important thing about running for office is the network that you build. Not just for fundraising, but to have the political connections to know what is happening in your community and in your state. Build those relationships.
Beyond a (possible) financial contribution, how can candidates leverage an endorsement in their race?
We believe an endorsement gives credibility to a candidate as a serious candidate. When we created the PAC about eight years ago, it was because we knew, if we were going to train these women, we needed to give them the credibility to be taken seriously. That’s what our endorsement does. We make it known that this is a candidate that LUPE PAC believes in and has the ability to be in office.
It’s not just the money, although that’s very important, it’s about having the support of a credible organization behind you. Our board is made up of well-respected Latina operatives and Latina professionals that believe in empowering other Latinas so when we say “We believe in this candidate, she’s a rising star,” you know we mean it. We’re putting our name behind this candidate.
What are some challenges that women candidates, especially first-time candidates, often run into? And how can an endorsement help them overcome those challenges?
We founded the PAC, which is non-partisan, because we felt that both parties were not doing enough outreach to Latinas. Our role, which we take very seriously, is to push the political parties to see that these are qualified candidates, with a lot of training, and that if they are not going to back them, we will! And that opens a conversation where new players can appear.
I always encourage women to think about “Who are your voters?” “Who are the organizations that your voters will listen to?” “How are you positioned on the issues those organizations care about?” And “what is your strategy for getting those organizations’ endorsements?” That credibility helps you both with voters, but also with the party. A lot of women, especially first-time candidates, are often challenging the local political structures. These women are sometimes activists or just women that want to be politically engaged, so they need that political credibility. That’s why endorsements are important.
What are some common misconceptions about PACs or the endorsement process?
A lot of first time candidates get very concerned with responding to policy questionnaires because they include questions that the candidate just may never have thought about before or taken a formal position on. They’re also skeptical about why we want to know, they sometimes approach it from a “This is all in my bio” perspective. What I tell them is “this is an opportunity for both of us to get to know each other.” We want to know the issues you care about and what you hope to accomplish in office. And it’s an opportunity for you to learn what we care about and what kind of candidates we are trying to endorse. It’s kind of like a mutual interview!
We have a lot of candidates who just don’t make the time to fill out the questionnaire. For us, it’s a prerequisite because we want to know you have the discipline to sit down and write your policy ideas on paper. We want to know you’re serious about running for office. If you don’t take the time to do that, then you’re not serious about the work it takes to run for office.
Beyond the PAC’s eligibility criteria, what do you look for in a candidate that makes it more likely they’ll receive your endorsement?
We look for a candidate who is very clear about why they’re running for office, and what they want to accomplish. That makes for a good candidate, someone who can verbalize the reasons why they want to be elected for that office.
If you can verbalize that, that’s how you get people to invest in you and your run for office. And we definitely view it as an investment. You may not win your first time around, but at least you put your name out there and the voters are getting to know you.
[Editor: Need to get clear on your "Why"? Check out the Incubator's Cultivating Leadership Lesson 1: Develop Your Vision for Making an Impact]
The other thing that makes a difference is, do they know the kinds of voters they’re going after. Do they know the makeup of the voters they need to be able to win? Do they know their opposition? Have they done the research about how many voters voted in the last election for this position? What is the strategy for winning over those voters? Do they have a good lay of the land?
If a candidate just wasn’t quite ready for LUPE’s endorsement the first time around, or maybe they lost their race, but if they run for office again in the future, should they consider reapplying for the endorsement?
Yes! Our greatest hope is that, by women going through the process, they’ll be better the next time around. So we always encourage women to re-apply. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on how you’ve grown on a candidate and what you’ve learned.
Anything else you’d like to share with women in the She Should Run Incubator program who are thinking about running for office?
It is our time to run. The Latino community is growing so we need to make sure Latina voices are represented in public policy. It’s a need for our community. We need to be able to demand the space for us to run and win. And we need to be strategic about building the networks we need to win. Politics is more than winning the election, you have to build a network of support to do good governance.
I tell women all the time to build those networks, build those relationships, and then leverage them. Long term relationships need to be built for us to have long term impact in politics. Women already have the skills, through building relationships in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our communities, to transform relationships into public policy. It’s the same skill.
And we, as women, need to support each other. If a woman asks you for a contribution to her campaign, do it, even if it’s just $5. If we don’t invest in ourselves, nobody else will.