When Pat Spearman, an African-American, lesbian military veteran, ran against Nevada State Sen. John Lee, a conservative Democrat, in the 2012 primary election, he outspent her 20 to 1. Lee had been in office for 15 years, and Spearman was averse to asking people for money.
A very inexperienced candidate, Spearman attended one of EMILY's List's Political Opportunity Program (POP) training sessions, where she learned how to raise funds, build a communications strategy and run an effective campaign. In the five months between the primary election and the general election, Spearman was able to raise $90,000. She ended defeating Lee in the primary with a comfortable 61 percent of the vote.
"If it had not been for EMILY's list believing in me and taking a chance on me, I wouldn't be here today, or I would be heavily in debt," Spearman told HuffPost in an interview. "Their endorsement alone shook the trees like crazy, and they changed my frame of mind about fundraising."
EMILY's List, a group dedicated to electing progressive women to office, trained its 1,000th female candidate of the 2014 election cycle this week. The group has trained over 9,000 candidates since the inception of its nationwide training program in 2001, and it helped elect a record number of women to Congress in 2012.
"Our Political Opportunity Program is really EMILY's List secret weapon," said Stephanie Schriock, the group's president. "This is what it takes to build a pipeline of women leaders who are going to be our next governors, senators and presidents."
EMILY's List holds POP sessions around the country to train women to compete in races of all levels. The all-day training sessions cover everything from obvious topics, such as fundraising and fielding tough media questions, to less obvious ones, like figuring out who is going to cook dinner, handle bills or pick up the kids from school during the campaign.
"The long and short of it is any woman who's thinking about running for office, whether now or later, needs this training," Spearman said. "We women have come a long way, yes, but we still have a very long way to go -- especially as a woman of color, and then for me, there's another subgroup, the LGBT community. We need every advantage we can get."
Spearman said she still attends the training sessions, not only to refresh her skills as a candidate, but to improve her work as a state senator.
"For bills I was a primary sponsor on, I used the box EMILY's List taught me to look for unintended consequences," she said. "I'd draw a square and divide it into fourths: what I wanted to accomplish in this bill, what could be some of the unintended consequences, what would some people misunderstand about this bill, and then how can I fix it. It helped me write and prepare legislation."
Spearman's proudest accomplishments as a lawmaker include introducing and passing landmark health care and marriage equality bills in her state. Victories like those improve EMILY's List's record as well, and Schriock said her group often chooses potential candidates for national offices from the pool of state lawmakers it helps to elect. Part of the point of the POP program, she said, is to "get women in the pipeline so we have women to recruit when opportunities open up across the country."
Schriock said she expects to get more women into Congress in 2014, as well as help elect more Democratic female governors, of which there is currently only one. She's hoping it will be another banner year for women.
"Despite the failed launches of sensitivity trainings and new branding that Republicans continue to push, they have a set of policies that are very damaging to women and women's opportunities," she said. "We feel that the 2014 election is incredibly important to move women forward in this country."
She also has her sights set on the presidency.
"We are really focused on electing the first woman president, and then the second and the third," she said. "Not surprisingly, there's a lot of conversation about Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and we're thrilled by the prospects of her taking this on. But we also want to make it clear there's a great group of women coming up the pipeline who, even in 2016, are as ready as their male counterparts to run for president."