Bloomberg: Democratic Women Seeking One of Their Own to Back in 2020 Race
By Arit John
Three years ago, Linds Jakows was one of the New Hampshire voters who rallied to Senator Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. In 2020, Jakows wants something different.
“I like a lot of things about Bernie Sanders, but I think there’s a lot of things that he still doesn’t get,” said Jakows, a 28-year-old from Manchester who’s active in state politics. “I really hope I have a strong progressive woman to vote for.”
Jakows’s desire to cast a ballot for a woman has been echoed in election campaigns across the country. Spurred by anger over Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in 2016 and energized by the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement, female voters were pivotal in electing a record number of women to Congress and giving Democrats control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections.
That momentum has carried into the 2020 Democratic nomination race which has an unprecedented six women running for the nation’s highest office, giving Jakows and similarly-minded voters a unique opportunity when New Hampshire holds its first-in-the-nation primary a little less than a year from now.
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii spent last weekend campaigning in the state. Gender was mostly a subtext rather than a central theme.
Harris emphasized her background as a prosecutor, Klobuchar portrayed herself as a Midwestern moderate and pragmatist, and Gabbard focused on her military background. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has focused on economic issues. Gillibrand stands out in highlighting that she views issues through the lens of motherhood.
During a campaign stop in Concord, Gillibrand said the number of women in the race is a benefit for the political system.
“Not only does it give the American people a chance to see what leadership looks like in all its diversity, but see what sensibilities perhaps women leaders bring to the table,” Gillibrand said in response to a question. “We have very different life experiences, we might see different problems, we might see different solutions.”
The sixth woman running as a Democrat is self-help author Marianne Williamson.
Democrats have a deep bench of female candidates who didn’t run in 2016 in favor of Clinton. Most of the female members of Congress running have held local, state or federal office for over a decade, though they lack Clinton’s even longer history in public life and her name recognition.
“It wasn’t that Amy Klobuchar wasn’t ready to run four years ago, or Kirsten Gillibrand, but they deferred because they believed Hillary Clinton should be president of the United States," said Stephanie Schriock, the president of the Emily’s List, a group dedicated to electing Democratic women who favor abortion rights. “The pipeline’s been there, and now without a clear desired frontrunner like Hillary Clinton was, it’s their time.”
In interviews, female voters in New Hampshire said they weren’t sold on any particular candidate and that gender wouldn’t be the sole determining factor for them. But many expressed hope that a woman would campaign on the issues they value and win.
"I definitely think that the Democratic nominee will be a woman, I’m hoping so," Beverly Duval, a 65-year-old office administrator from Manchester, said during a Klobuchar event in Goffstown.
"Men have been given many years and I think that women now have, I’m hoping that maybe they now have, their chance to show that they can govern, too," she said.
The eventual nominee will have to break out of a crowd of at least a dozen contenders. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who hasn’t said whether he’ll run, leads in the early polls of voter preference followed by Sanders, who raised an eye-popping $5.9 million in the 24 hours after announcing his second presidential bid on Feb. 19. Harris and Warren tend to come in third.
Sanders, of Vermont, received a major boost to his 2016 campaign when he decisively won the New Hampshire primary with 60 percent of the vote. Since then the progressive policies he championed have pushed the Democratic Party left, and many of the candidates in the race have adopted parts of his platform.
Sanders’ 2016 success in New Hampshire hasn’t scared off candidates. Warren is making her third visit to the state this weekend, while Gillibrand has visited twice and Gabbard and Harris have visited once. Klobuchar will visit for the second time candidate on Sunday. Harris made a point during her first visit to promise to campaign aggressively in the state.
"I plan on competing hard in New Hampshire," Harris told an audience at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on Feb. 19. "And I plan on doing well here."
Jakows, who attended a Gillibrand event in Somersworth, is looking for a candidate who echoes some of Sanders’ stances: “I would like to see someone who shares his views on the issues but is also able to speak to a wider array of experiences.”
Despite Clinton breaking ground as the first woman to run as a major party nominee, female voters, candidates and strategists said that sexism still is an issue in campaigning.
"The attention on them this early is going to make it tougher on them," said Professor Karen O’Connor, founder of the Women & Politics Institute at American University.
O’Connor pointed to Warren’s history of claiming American Indian heritage as an issue that risks being too much of a distraction. Klobuchar has been confronted by stories about her being an overly demanding and sometimes harsh boss.
Klobuchar said that even as more women are being elected to local, state and federal offices, female leaders need to be prepared to battle sexism with facts.
“Someone once said -- and I agree with part of this but not all of it -- that women candidates should speak softly and carry a big statistic,” she said. The “big statistic” means they have to “be accountable and show what they’re doing.”
The biggest obstacle for the women in the race may be convincing voters that they can win. A Feb. 4 Monmouth poll found that 61 percent of Democratic women would back a candidate who has a better chance of beating Trump over one they agree with, compared with 45 percent of men.
“There are a handful of folks who are being controlled by their own fear and their own inability to forget about the last race," said Schriock. "I tell this to candidates all the time: don’t go into this running the last presidential race, we’re running the new presidential race.”