EMILY's List, an influential political action committee that works to help pro-choice women win elections, has been closely following the 3rd Congressional District race, watching its dynamics unfold and keeping in contact with the five female candidates.

The organization will not say, however, if it actually intends to endorse one of those women -- something that would bring financial and logistical support -- in the Democratic primary.

For years, EMILY's List worked to recruit women who could run for office, rarely seeing more than one run for any given seat. But this cycle has seen a sea change: More than 40 times as many women contacted the group expressing interest as did two years ago, and races across the country are full of women in record numbers.

As a result, women's advocacy groups face the task of choosing, in races with multiple female candidates, who to elevate over the others.

"It is something we do not take lightly," said Julie McClain Downey, senior director of campaign communications for EMILY's List. "We don't relish choosing one woman candidate over another because it is so important to encourage women's involvement at every level."

The surge in interest from women in the wake of Donald Trump's presidential victory has been widespread. During the last campaign cycle between 2014 and 2016, EMILY's List was contacted by about 960 women who sought support. Over the past year and a half, that figure ballooned to more than 40,000.


Support from EMILY's List can be key for a campaign, not just because it carries important symbolism but also because the organization commits financial and personnel resources to help its candidates. In 2007, when U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas won her first campaign to represent what is now the 3rd District, EMILY's List spent $125,000 on radio advertisements to back up its endorsement of her -- which came over another woman in the race, Eileen Donoghue.

Tsongas said, although the endorsement was not a decisive turning point, the support and particularly the staff training was welcome assistance.

"Getting their endorsement does represent the implicit support of thousands of women and men across the country that believe in the mission EMILY's List has," Tsongas said. "But it was also true that, in addition to that, it helped to bring some much-needed financial support to our campaign effort."

The organization has a lengthy process in place for determining which candidates to back.

Staff make contact with candidates to learn about how campaigns run, and the group is strict about only endorsing campaigns that have a healthy budget, a professional staff and a realistic chance of victory.

However, Downey said EMILY's List focuses on races that, while winnable, are not certainties.

"Even if it's difficult, we're not an organization interested in choosing clear winners," she said. "We often don't endorse in non-competitive races because we want to make the most and greatest impact."

Competitive primaries represent a different challenge, though. EMILY's List has backed women in Democratic primary races this cycle, but endorsements in crowded races with numerous women are rarer.

Five women, for example, were among the Democratic candidates in Pennsylvania's redrawn 5th Congressional District, but EMILY's List did not issue its endorsement for Mary Gay Scanlon until a month after she won the primary.

Like that field, the Democratic primary in Massachusetts' 3rd District features five women: Alexandra Chandler, Barbara L'Italien, Bopha Malone, Juana Matias and Lori Trahan. Downey said EMILY's List was tracking the race "very closely," but that an endorsement was "not immediately imminent because there are such great candidates."

Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist and political commentator, described such crowded races as "the problems EMILY's List prayed for when they got started."

To be clear, even if EMILY's List leaders will not say at this point what their plan is, they could still choose one of the women to endorse before the Sept. 4 primary.

Uncertainty has not been the case with similar organizations, however. The National Women's Political Caucus and Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus both announced their support last week for L'Italien.

Marsh stressed that she believes EMILY's List should not shy away from getting involved in primaries with multiple female candidates.

She pointed to the district's fundraising numbers, with Dan Koh and Rufus Gifford raising the two highest amounts so far.

"I think Emily's List makes a big mistake when they don't pick a woman in a race and help them out when there's more than one woman," Marsh said. "They exist to make sure women candidates have a level playing field, and in this race, if you look at the numbers, the women have not raised as much as the men."

Support would not be a guarantee, Marsh said, but would still fit with the organization's mission.

"Any help anyone gives never guarantees success," she said. "But you need to put people in a position to be successful."

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.