Faced with ‘electability’ question in 2020, women point to 2018 wins

May 20, 2019

Roll Call: Faced with ‘electability’ question in 2020, women point to 2018 wins

By: Bridget Bowman

FAIRFAX, Va. — Amanda Bean is ready for a woman to take on President Donald Trump, and she has no patience for questions about whether a female candidate can win the White House.

“Everybody’s asking that, but it’s pathetic that we’re still asking,” Bean said after Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of six women in a field of 23 Democrats seeking the presidential nomination, held a town hall here Thursday. “We should be so far past this point.”

But early polls show Democrats putting two men — former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — at the head of the pack. Bean and other Democrats counter suggestions that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss means a woman can’t win by pointing to last year’s midterms.

“It’s time,” said Bean, 46, who lives in Loudoun County and brought her teenage daughter to Warren’s event at George Mason University. “What we’ve seen in all the elections since [2016] is that women are winning.”

Still facing questions

Christina Reynolds of EMILYs List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, said female candidates last year won support from voters of both parties.

“It wasn’t just Democratic voters,” Reynolds said. “It was voters around the country, and including in places like Kansas or Oklahoma or Michigan, up and down the ticket.”

The midterms brought a record-breaking 127 women to Congress. Of the House seats Democrats flipped in 2018, 24 were won by women. Democratic women also flipped two hotly contested Senate seats.

Of the voting-age population, 55 percent of women turned out last fall, compared with nearly 52 percent of men, according to the Census Bureau.

“The people who were electable [in 2018] were young women of color across the board,” said Abigail Morris, an 18-year-old American University student who attended Warren’s town hall.

And she was emphatic about Warren’s candidacy: “Of course, she’s electable,” Morris said.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in March found that 91 percent of Democratic voters surveyed were enthusiastic or comfortable with a female candidate.

But not all Democrats were on board at the start of Thursday’s rally.

One woman, who declined to give her name, said she came to Warren’s town hall concerned that a female candidate might not be able to go all the way after Clinton’s loss.

“I have friends who think that and I was wondering about that too,” she said. “I honestly felt: Could we do this? Do we want to try this again? And that’s one of the reasons why I came to hear her live tonight. And she convinced me.”

She said Warren’s personable demeanor, sense of humor and scores of policy proposals won her over.

But Warren and her fellow female candidates — Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and best-selling author Marianne Williamson — have continued to face questions about their electability.   

In April, Warren was asked at a CNN town hall about how she would avoid “getting Hillary-ed.” Last week, Klobuchar was asked on MSNBC about white men leading recent polls and how women could break through. Before she had even launched her campaign, Harris was asked during an appearance on “The View” if America was “ready for the first woman-of-color president.”

‘That’s what girls do’

Warren’s speech Thursday only briefly referenced challenges she’s faced as a woman, such as being passed over for jobs when she was visibly pregnant. She said some people have advised her to “smile more,” which drew laughs and boos from the crowd.

And Warren and the other women in the 2020 field do have their own answers to the electability question, often touting their past elections as proof they can win tough races.

Asked at last month’s CNN town hall how she would combat sexism in the presidential race, Warren referenced her 2012 race against GOP Sen. Scott P. Brown.

“I thought, look, I’m going to be in this race. I’m going to make something count every single day,” she recalled. “So every day, when I saw a little girl, I would come up and I’d usually get down, I’m a teacher, and I would say, ‘Hi, my name is Elizabeth and I’m running for Senate because that’s what girls do.’ And then we would pinky swear to remember.”

One of those girls who met Warren in 2012 was Morris, the 18-year-old college student at her Fairfax town hall. She said in a phone interview after the event that she is backing Warren in the primary, and she definitely wants to see a woman at the top the ticket.

“If we want to see women become electable, we need to elect them,” Morris said.