Emily's List Executive Director Stephanie Schriock's No. 1 job is to convince Democratic, pro-choice women that they have the resume to run for political office. Her next job is to make sure they have everything they need to win.
But the retirement of six-term Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., in Schriock's home state has put the political strategist in a new and puzzling position. The native of Butte, Mont. still has a home in Bozeman and now has a lot of Montanans whispering in her ear that it's time for her to consider her own advice and run for public office.
"I have been overwhelmed by the interest in the Senate race," Schriock said during an Emily's List event Thursday. "I will say this, Montana has a great history of electing women. Emily's List has been involved a long time in Montana and I think, like you, I am waiting to see how this all plays out."
As Schriock considers a run, her Democratic allies back home say that it's not Schriock's role at Emily's List alone that makes her a good fit to serve Montanans, it is the connection to her home state.
"She's not just qualified because of her prestigious position; she's qualified because she knows and cares about Montana," says Aaron Murphy, a democratic strategist based in Montana. "She knows the politics. The issue is whether she decides to pursue it, and that is up to her."
Schriock grew up in Butte, a mining community in central Montana that was uncharacteristically Democratic thanks to the town's strong union ties.
She served a stint as student body president at her high school, but she told the Washington Post in 2009 that she decided to be part of politics in 1980 when a union protest led a major mine to close and jobs to dry up overnight.
"At that moment, I knew that at some level, in some way, I've got to be involved in politics," she told the Post. "You just realized that your livelihood could change in a split second and you don't have any control over it unless you organize and you come together."
Schriock first made a name for herself on the national stage as former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's finance director during the 2004 Democratic primary.
"Stephanie basically invented low-dollar online fundraising," the Montana-based Democratic strategist said.
Schriock shattered records in 2004, helping raise a reported $52 million for Dean's primary war chest. That's when a flat-top farmer named Jon Tester tapped her for his own campaign against incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., who was under the microscope for his connections to high-profile lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
After Democrat Tester was elected in 2006 in the Republican-leaning state, Schriock took her place as Tester's chief of staff.
"It didn't matter what the request was; if a Veteran wasn't getting their benefits or if someone wanted Jon to come to the middle of nowhere to see their kids' 4-H pig, Stephanie was responsive to all of it. She was always making sure Montanans were being looked after," one colleague remembers.
But Schriock didn't stay away from campaigns for long. In 2007, now Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., was looking for a dynamite fundraiser and someone who could take his long-shot, funny man campaign and transform it into a mainstream political machine. National Democratic leaders recommended Franken talk to Schriock. Again, and this time after an eight-month recount, Schriock's team eked out another victory. "She has won every difficult contest she has been involved in. They were all against the longest odds you could imagine," a Democratic strategist says. "She is the kind of person that you meet and immediately like and you immediately trust. And she demands results from people who work with her. She removes barriers so people can succeed."
Since taking over Emily's List in 2010, she's helped elect the largest class of Democratic women in the history of the Senate.
But she's not the only one considering the Senate race in Montana. Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer is the name on most pundits' radars. A Colorado College poll in 2012, showed the populist Schweitzer, who is known for his bolo ties and resistance to suits, with a 65 percent approval rating. And one group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, has already launched the "Draft Brian Schweitzer" campaign, which 16,000 people have signed onto. In the two weeks since Baucus announced his retirement, the grassroots group has raised $23,000 for Schweitzer who has yet to announce whether he plans to run for the seat. Pundits in the state say, while anything could happen, it's unlikely Montanans would see a primary showdown between Schweitzer and Schriock.
"That is money that is raised for him, and if he runs, he will get that money on day one to pay for staff, clipboards and office space, all the things you need to start a campaign," says Matt Wall, a spokesman for the group. "We got behind Schweitzer before he even announced because of his record as an economic populist. His record of standing up for the little guy against big corporations resonates in red states and is a model for other Democrats in red states to emulate."
Larry Sabato, a political pundit at the University of Virginia, has said that if Schweitzer runs for the Senate, he'll start with the advantage in the GOP-leaning state, while other Democratic candidates including Schriock will be more vulnerable.
"The polling has indicated that Schweitzer probably would be a better general election candidate than Baucus," Sabato wrote. "If Schweitzer does not run, then this race will probably tilt at least slightly to the Republicans."
Montana Republican Party Executive Director Bowen Greenwood says that Schweitzer has a more moderate record than Schriock, which would work in his advantage.
"She has quite a record as a campaign manager, but there is a big difference between campaign manager and candidate," Greenwood says. "There is a reason that Democrats want Brian Schweitzer so bad because a standard East Coast liberal just don't fly here."
Allies of Schriock's, however, say that the campaign strategist has all the potential in the world to surprise those who doubt her.
"She is a contender. Her name should not be ignored or forgotten," says Democratic strategist Murphy.
As for the suggestion that it's time for Schriock to take her own advice?
"She has basically already followed her own advice. Her advice has always been 'get involved in politics, serve' and you cannot argue she hasn't already done that," the Democratic strategist says. "If she goes back to Montana, runs and wins, she would help elect one more woman to the Senate. If she stays put, she has the opportunity to elect a half dozen more."