Ladies v. Dems

Never mind that The Century Club only began admitting women in 1988, some 140 years after it was founded. And never mind that it only took the threat of a Supreme Court decision to get it to open its doors to the fairer sex. Last night, March 29th, the club belonged to a group of (gasp) feminists – including former ambassador Robin Duke, Democratic donoress Jill Iscol, and pro-choice warrior Kate Michelman – who were embroiled until recently in a tussle with the Senate Democratic leadership (including DSCC chief Chuck Schumer) over whether or not it should recruit anti-abortion candidates to run for office.

The ostensible purpose of last night’s event was to raise money for Rhode Island’s boyish Secretary of State, Matt Brown. (Yes, we said “Rhode Island,” that small blip of a state between Connecticut and Massachusetts.) Brown is running for U.S. Senate in 2006, and until last week, he was considered the main alternative to Congressman Jim Langevin, the candidate who had been favored by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (i.e., Chuck Schumer & Co.). The difference between the two candidates? Brown is pro-choice. Langevin is anti-choice.

(Langevin, it should be noted, is not the only anti-choice candidate who was recruited to challenge a Republican incumbent. Robert Casey, Jr., Pennsylvania’s state treasurer and the son of the state’s former Governor Robert Casey, Sr., has been recruited to run against the scary Rick Santorum.)

Brown’s pro-choice stance has made him something of a cause celebre among well-heeled reproductive rights advocates. Angry that the DSCC was backing Langevin – against the pro-choice Republican senator Lincoln Chafee, no less – they began actively bolstering Brown’s campaign, raising money for him at events in Boston, Los Angeles, and points in between.

On March 8th – International Women’s Day – Gloria Steinem spoke at an event at the home of Melissa Bomes and Adam Winkler (the son of movie producer Irving Winkler) in Los Angeles. Kate Michelman, former head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, recently held her own fund-raiser in DC. Meanwhile, Victoria Hopper, wife of actor Dennis Hopper, recruited 16 actors, producers and philanthropists to sign a letter urging Democratic women to donate to Brown’s campaign – or call the DSCC to “object to their support for radically anti-choice candidate Rep. Langevin.”

Robin Duke, a former ambassador to Norway and one of the doyennes of the reproductive rights movement, decided to do both. “I called Chuck [Schumer] on the phone – and I’ve supported him ever since he ran the first time for the senate,” Ms. Duke told The Observer. “Then I called Ted Kennedy. I did not speak to Ted. I spoke to his administrative assistant and told her what I thought.”

Last Wednesday, Jim Langevin announced that he would not be running for Senate in 2006. The reason, according to his spokesperson, Mike Guilfoyle, was that “he thinks he can do a better job for Rhode Island in the House.” Guilfoyle stressed that Langevin’s decision had nothing to do with Matt Brown’s growing piggy-bank, and several other political insiders suggested that Langevin would have knocked Brown out in the primary. But that has not stopped women’s rights advocates from claiming victory.

“I don’t think there was any question that that was a factor in Langevin’s decision not to run, that the pressure and the message and the money and the organized effort had an impact,” said Kate Michelman, the former head of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Meanwhile, some 45 big-spending pro-choicers gathered at The Century Club last night to celebrate. Other sponsors of the event included Hearst Entertainment president Bruce Paisner and almost-First Daughter Rebecca Lieberman. Tickets cost $500.