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Senator Barbara Ann Mikulski speaks before a large wooden podium.
Figure 8.1 Barbara Mikulski was the first woman to be elected to the United States Senate during a regular election cycle. She served in the US Senate for 30 years. (credit: “Goddard Congressional Visit” by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Bill Hrybyk/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

In 1985, twenty-five women decided to raise money to elect democratic women to the United States Congress. A year later, in 1986, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland became the first female Senator to win a seat not by appointment but in her own right during a regular election cycle (Figure 8.1). Mikulski’s historic win was thanks in part to the efforts of those twenty-five women, who met and started a political interest group and PAC called EMILY’s List.1 The name, which stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast (it makes the dough rise), was a nod to the understanding that in order to be effective in elections and in politics, people need to pool their interests, activities, and resources. EMILY’s List continues to advocate for democratic women who are running for office and encourages its members to raise money for electoral contests.

EMILY’s List is just one example of the interwoven relationship between interest groups, political parties, and elections. This chapter will explore the role of interest groups in politics, their pros and cons, how political parties mobilize their own organizational agendas, and how these group-level activities intersect with political elections.

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