Newsweek: 2020 Election could bring First Woman President but who will it be? Women’s Groups say ‘This Train Can’t be Stopped’
By Alexandra Hutzler
The United States has had 45 presidents. Not one of them has been a woman.
But 2020 could be the year all that changes, as at least six women vie for the opportunity to take down Donald Trump and win the keys to the White House. So far, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Marianne Williamson have all thrown their hat into the ring for the Democratic Party’s nomination.
In fact, more women have launched presidential campaigns in the past four months than in the country’s 238-year history.
“It feels like none of us have slept in years just because of the incredible growth that we’ve seen,” Erin Loos Cutraro, CEO and founder of She Should Run, told Newsweek. “It’s so exciting, you don’t want to miss a minute.”
The women 2020 candidates are following on the heels of Hillary Clinton’s historic run in 2016, which created a unique tension for women in American politics. On the one hand, her campaign, and her defeat by a man who was heard on tape bragging about sexual assault, drove thousands of women to run for office in the 2018 midterm elections, resulting in a record 102 females serving in Congress. But there is also a real concern that if Trump’s misogyny could defeat Clinton, it could just as easily take down other women.
Is it just too soon to try again?
Not so, said Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY’s List. She and other leaders from some of the nation’s key women-focused political organizations are certain that the narrative has shifted this time around. This election is not going to be about whether the country can elect a woman president, it’s going to be about which woman voters will choose.
“One of them is very likely to capture the imagination of what can be,” Schriock told Newsweek about the six female candidates competing in the Democratic primary.
Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), shared a similar sentiment, telling Newsweek: “I do think that we will have a woman candidate coming out of the primary. I don't think any longer that it's ‘if.’ I don’t think this train can be stopped.”
While both NOW and EMILY's List will not be endorsing a candidate in the primary, Schriock has pointed to the four senators—Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar and Warren—as the “truly viable candidates” in the race.
But their confidence that a female will win in 2020, or at least be at the top of the Democratic ticket, may appear premature. Early polling and campaign fundraising has highlighted the strength of popular male candidates like Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders and even Joe Biden (who has yet to announce his candidacy).
So far, national surveys have consistently found Biden and Sanders to be the frontrunners of the 2020 Democratic pack. The latest Iowa polling showed the two men to be nearly even, earning 27 percent and 25 percent of the vote respectively. No other candidate, male or female, earned above 10 percent of the vote.
Senators Warren and Harris usually follow Biden and Sanders in the polls, though they are often separated from their male counterparts by double digits.
This pattern is similar when it comes to campaign fundraising. Both Sanders and O’Rourke raised about $6 million in the 24 hours following the launch of their presidential campaigns, far outpacing female candidates in the race. Harris, who enjoyed the most high-profile rollout among women candidates and even got lauded as having the "best opening" by the president, collected $1.5 million in the first day of her campaign while Klobuchar raised $1 million in 48 hours.
Even so, these female-focused political organizations believe that women who are in the running finally have what their male counterparts have benefitted from for decades: a vast network of supportive volunteers and donors.
“We all know how important 2020 is and we’re not going to hold back,” NOW’s Van Pelt said. “Whatever we can do we will be there and we will be doing it. We have to get [Trump] out of office but just as importantly we have to get a feminist woman in office.”
But with so many women in the running, there is some concern that they will split support among voters. Many believe that had a few thousand votes in key states gone to Clinton instead of Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, that Trump would not have won in 2016. Following the election, Stein was accused of all-but handing the presidency to Trump. But Schriock brushed off the idea of that happening again in 2020.
“Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren is not going to win just because women back them up. They’re going to win because women and men have come together to understand her vision—whoever the her is—her vision for the future,” she said.
Rather than an extra hurdle, having more women in the race could bestow benefits for all of them. Cutraro, president of She Should Run, added that having women running against each other at the highest level of political office will “force voters to look beyond gender at the issues.” In some sense, seeing qualified women in positions of power has become the new normal—or at the very least it's starting to be—following the success of the 2018 midterms and movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp.
During the 2016 election, NOW had about 40,000 members working locally around the country to support the Clinton campaign. The organization also paid to fly out volunteers and put them up in hotels for weeks at a time when extra support was needed in battleground states. NOW will hold a conference in July to strategize and train volunteers to work in the 2020 election and Van Pelt predicts that even more volunteers will be mobilized across the country for the upcoming race.
According to Schriock, EMILY’s List is ready to provide a pool of potential staff from previous election cycles for 2020 candidates as they build out their campaigns over the next few months.
The organization is also preparing to help combat any sexist press coverage surrounding the female candidates, in the expectation that stories about their appearance or likeability will supersede talk of heir qualifications or policy positions.
These stories have already started for the next election, with headlines like “Awkward Beer Drinker and 2020 Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren” and “The dos and don’ts for the women running for president.”
Schriock recalled one situation in which Gretchen Whitmer, the newly elected governor of Michigan, was asked on the campaign trail if she was really “going to run as a woman.”
“That was an actual question. It’s all of the ‘is she tough enough, can she really do it, is she ready to be an executive?’—questions that don’t come out with male candidates in the same way,” Schriock added.
Many observers have also pointed to the fanfare surrounding O'Rourke's unveiling last week and questioned whether his lack of policy details would be similarly overlooked if he was a woman rather than a white man.
With much work to do, both Schriock and Van Pelt predict that they will end up spending the same, if not more, on the 2020 election cycle as they did in 2018.
Last year, EMILY’s List raised and spent over $110 million during the midterm elections. With that money, the organization saw their endorsed candidates pick up two seats in the Senate, four governorships and dozens of House seats. The group was also engaged in over 600 legislative races across the country.
“We’re going to do that again,” Schriock insisted. The added challenge then, if a woman wins the Democratic Party’s nomination, will be supporting them while also holding onto the seats won by women in the past few election cycles.
NOW has already begun fundraising this year and plans to help fund candidates who are running for targeted seats in the House and the Senate. In the 2018 midterm elections, the organization spent over $125,000.
These strategies are likely to change, both Van Pelt and Schriock noted, as the primary continues and maybe even more women join the fray. Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, a rising star in the Democratic Party after losing her gubernatorial election last November, has hinted about running in 2020. Last week, Abrams met with Biden in Washington, sparking rumors that she could be swiftly unveiled as his running mate.
Now, other male candidates have come out in support of having a woman as their running mate. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg told the women of The View on Friday that talking about the "gender balance on the ticket is a good idea." John Hickenlooper, who also said he'd consider putting a woman on the ticket, stirred criticism when he asked: "How come we're not asking more often the women, 'Would you be willing to put a man on the ticket?'" The inquiry prompted audible groans from the audience.
Earlier this month, Sanders was even asked by a radio host whether America needed another white, male president.
“Well, I think you need this one,” Sanders replied. "Look, we are living in an unprecedented time. We have the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country, somebody who is a pathological liar, a fraud, a racist, a sexist, a homophobe.”
When asked about whether male candidates should consider stepping to the side, Van Pelt scoffed at the idea and said everyone should just do what they think is best.
“But I do think the voters need to think about what you’ve just asked—that it is time to put a woman into office," she added. "We’ve seen what a mess men have made in office and we just need to clean it up."