They are longtime friends who have been bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, worked for and with each other for years, and supported one another with daily text chains and phone calls. And on Nov. 6, these five Democratic women candidates each won their state Senate races by double digits in Colorado, with their wins flipping the Senate from red to blue for the first time since 2013.
“We were all in it together,” Jessie Danielson, a state representative who brought her toddler daughter on the campaign trail, tells PEOPLE. The wins, she says, were “pretty amazing.”
Faith Winter, a state representative who beat out a Republican incumbent for her Senate win, worked with Danielson years ago at Emerge Colorado, a group that finds and trains women candidates to run for local and state office.
“Essentially she was my boss,” says Winter. “She and I have been friends and colleagues for a long time as well.”
When Winter came forward with allegations of sexual harrassment against fellow state representative Steve Lebsock, who was expelled from the legislature in March, Danielson’s support to move the expulsion vote forward was significant. (Lebsock has denied the allegations, but an independent investigation deemed them credible, according to USA Today’s Coloradoan.com.)
“On the day of the vote for expulsion, we didn’t have the votes,” says Winter. All three of the top house leadership positions were women, including Danielson.
“We had to at least try to get justice,” Winter says, “and we had to try and show women that they are believed and that we would change the culture.”
Winter was a bridesmaid in the August 2017 wedding of her fellow state representative Brittany Pettersen, who also won her Senate race.
It was Pettersen whom Winter first called (after talking to her husband) when she decided to go public with her allegations against Lebsock.
“She knew I was scared to use my office during that time,” says Winter. “She was there for all of my concerns.”
Tammy Story, who beat the incumbent Republican by 15 percentage points, met the other women about eight years ago through her longtime advocacy work on public education.
“We hoped we were all going to win,” says Story, “but I don’t think anyone predicted the margin that we would win by.”
She and the other women withstood a barrage of negative mail and TV ads with help from each other.
“Through the campaign, the five of us were very supportive of each other,” says Winter. “We had several text chains where we would check in with one another and see how we were doing.”
“If a particularly bad ad or piece of mail came out,” Winter continues, “we would reassure each other on the text chain, ‘Have you seen the mail? It’s so awful, how are you doing?’ “
Kerry Donovan, the fifth woman of the group, won re-election to her Senate seat.
“Our families are incredibly supportive,” Winter says, “but it’s not their name on the thousands of pieces of mail going out or on the TV, so being able to talk to them, and they are going through the exact same thing, it was so supportive.”
Catherine Vaughan, the CEO and co-founder of the progressive election group Flippable supported Winter, Story and Danielson in their races.
Vaughan notes the importance of state-level races with their effect on election rules (such as gerrymandering and the recently tightened voter ID rules), much of education, and access to health care such as Medicaid.
“I am so excited about what is happening in Colorado,” Vaughan says.
Collectively, these women — whom Vaughan calls “The Fab Five” — are known for championing paid family leave, equal pay, public education, the environment and battling the opioid crisis.
They are also serving as role models for a new generation of working moms.
“I had to take my daughter on the floor (of the House) a lot, we work long hours,” says Danielson. “She ended up being fairly front and center of the campaign because the kind of Colorado we want is for her.
“I’ve had a number of younger women come to me and say to me, ‘I see you can do it, now I feel I can do it too,'” she says, “they see you can run for office and have a family.”