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‘There’s not just one women’s lane’: A record number of female candidates running for president

CNBC: ‘There’s not just one women’s lane’: A record number of female candidates running for president

By Carmin Chappell

With Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota launching their presidential bids over the weekend, there are now more women running for a single party’s nomination than ever.

Warren and Klobuchar join fellow Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Altogether, they comprise nearly a fifth of the Democratic women serving in the Senate. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, is in the field, as well. Author Marianne Williamson, who counts Oprah Winfrey as a fan of her books, has also launched a presidential campaign.

Voters who want to see a woman in the White House will have many more candidates to choose from in 2020 compared with past elections. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, or CAWP, at Rutgers University, there has never been more than two women competing at the same time in the Democratic or Republican primaries.

With five strong female contenders in the Democratic primary, candidates will need to look outside of gender identity and tap into their policy platforms in order to distinguish themselves in a crowded field.

“The value of having multiple women candidates is that they force us to think about women candidates in a way that is not monolithic,” Kelly Dittmar, scholar at CAWP, told CNBC.

More focus on policy and individual stories

Hillary Clinton’s status as the only woman in the 2016 Democratic primary race allowed her campaign to adopt the simple slogan “I’m With Her.” (Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was the sole female candidate on the GOP side.) Now, candidates will have to find more ways to stand out in a crowded Democratic primary field, which also includes five men.

“There’s not just one women’s lane,” said Christina Reynolds, who worked on Clinton’s 2016 campaign and is now vice president of communications at Emily’s List, a political action committee backing female candidates. “We can look at them and evaluate them on their candidacies.”

Women on the campaign trail have focused on a wide range of issues designed to appeal to a broad voter base.

For example, Warren has championed ending income inequality, a topic stemming from her time as a bankruptcy law scholar, while Gabbard has highlighted how her tours of duty in Iraq have informed her anti-interventionist foreign policy platforms.

Candidates are trying to “find those places where they can combine their historical work and experience, and then integrate that experience into an agenda item that does distinguish themselves,” Dittmar said.

‘Year of the Woman’ impact

The 2018 midterm elections were a watershed for women in politics, as more women were elected to Congress than ever before. The current Congress is also the most diverse ever, a sign of a changing electorate that could boost the candidacies of Harris and Gabbard, who are both women of color.

Candidates during the midterms “didn’t see [gender] as a hurdle that they had to overcome,” Dittmar said, which marked a shift in thinking about identity on the campaign trail.

While Clinton “struggled with” gender biases and uneven expectations during her two presidential bids, congressional candidates pulled off electoral upsets by embracing their individuality and choosing to “run authentically as themselves,” Reynolds said.

The momentum from the “Year of the Woman” looks likely to continue into the presidential campaign. President Donald Trump’s approval ratings with women continue to lag: Just 27 percent of women approve of the president compared with 49 percent of men, according to a January ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Experts say the number of women running for president in 2020 is as much a reflection of the current political tensions as of the groundwork laid by previous candidates, such as Clinton.

“Every woman running makes it easier for the next woman to run,” Reynolds said.