Democrats ex­pect fe­male front-run­ner – or 3 – in 2020

Belleville News-Democrat (Sunday) - - Local - BY ALEXAN­DER BURNS AND LISA LERER New York Times


Three prom­i­nent fe­male Democrats all but openly be­gan run­ning for pres­i­dent this week, tak­ing their most ac­tive steps yet to chal­lenge Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and claim lead­er­ship of a move­ment of mod­er­ate and lib­eral women that has come to de­fine their party dur­ing the 2018 elec­tions.

Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand of New York cam­paigned in the early pri­mary state of New Hamp­shire on Thurs­day, while Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris of Cal­i­for­nia was poised to visit sim­i­larly cru­cial South Carolina and Iowa. And Sen. Eliz­a­beth Warren of Mass­a­chu­setts left lit­tle doubt about her in­ten­tions when she re­leased a ge­netic test in­di­cat­ing she has Na­tive Amer­i­can an­ces­try – a move to blunt Trump’s taunts al­leg­ing she had mis­char­ac­ter­ized her her­itage.

These women are be­gin­ning to of­fer them­selves as po­ten­tial pres­i­dents at a time when stark di­vides around gen­der are shap­ing the midterm cam­paigns: A record num­ber of women are run­ning for Con­gress, mainly on the Demo­cratic side, and polls show women fa­vor­ing Democrats by a huge mar­gin. Yet Trump has be­gun sharply as­sail­ing the #MeToo move­ment and mak­ing in­creas­ingly ex­plicit ap­peals to male iden­tity.

Gil­li­brand, who touted a paid fam­ily leave pro­posal be­side Molly Kelly, New Hamp­shire Democrats’ nom­i­nee for gov­er­nor, in a Con­cord candy shop Thurs­day, pre­dicted mul­ti­ple women would run against Trump in 2020. She said she had made no de­ci­sions about her fu­ture, but cast the po­lit­i­cal mo­ment as one of women mo­bi­liz­ing against a “cred­i­bly ac­cused sex­ual ha­rasser and sex­ual as­saulter” – Trump.

Gil­li­brand, 51, said the po­lit­i­cal en­ergy among Demo­cratic women this year far ex­ceeded any­thing she saw in 2016, when Hil­lary Clin­ton stood a chance of be­com­ing the first fe­male pres­i­dent. Al­lud­ing to the Women’s March of 2017 and the re­cent protests against Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion, she said that en­ergy would help de­fine the 2020 elec­tion.

“It will carry over to the pres­i­den­tial race,” Gil­li­brand said in an in­ter­view. “You’ll have many women run­ning. It’s not go­ing to be just one woman run­ning.”

It would be un­prece­dented for mul­ti­ple women in high of­fice to seek a party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in the same year, and it could cre­ate an un­pre­dictable dy­namic in the pri­mary – po­ten­tially di­vid­ing vot­ers de­ter­mined to nom­i­nate a woman and per­haps height­en­ing scru­tiny of how male can­di­dates have treated women in pub­lic and pri­vate life.

Har­ris andWar­ren have both con­firmed they are con­sid­er­ing the 2020 race, while Gil­li­brand has been ex­plor­ing a cam­paign with­out say­ing so defini­tively.

If mul­ti­ple women run, no one Demo­crat could mo­nop­o­lize the vi­sion of break­ing a glass ceil­ing, as Clin­ton did in 2016. And any Demo­cratic woman might face anx­i­ety, ex­pressed qui­etly by some con­cerned party mem­bers, about the fe­roc­ity with which Trump has sav­aged his fe­male crit­ics.

But some Democrats say elect­ing a woman is even more im­por­tant now than in 2016. And many Demo­cratic lead­ers be­lieve the po­lit­i­cal mood in the party could quickly cat­a­pult one or more women to fron­trun­ner sta­tus.

Mayor Lon­don Breed of San Fran­cisco, the largest U.S. city with an elected fe­male mayor, said Democrats had been ral­ly­ing to fe­male can­di­dates in the midterms and there was an op­por­tu­nity – “now more than ever” – for a woman to lead the party. Breed said she would back Har­ris if she runs.

“We’re over­due, let’s put it that way,” Breed said in an in­ter­view. “It would be great to fi­nally see a woman step up and run this coun­try.”

Trump, who has is­sued blan­ket de­nials of nu­mer­ous al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct, main­tains strong sup­port among con­ser­va­tive women and car­ried a ma­jor­ity of white women against Clin­ton in 2016. But his cur­rent stand­ing with fe­male vot­ers is dis­mal: women dis­ap­prove of his job per­for­mance by a 2-1 mar­gin, while men are evenly split, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter.

Trump now reg­u­larly crit­i­cizes #MeToo and at a re­cent rally mocked Chris­tine Blasey Ford, the woman who said Ka­vanaugh as­saulted her. The pres­i­dent of­ten sin­gles out fe­male Democrats for ridicule, in­clud­ing War- ren, Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters of Cal­i­for­nia and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House mi­nor­ity leader.

Har­ris, 53, who last sum­mer de­fended “iden­tity pol­i­tics” in a pas­sion­ate speech, earned a hero’s wel­come in Ohio this month after clash­ing with Ka­vanaugh. Cam­paign­ing for Sen. Sher­rod Brown’s re-elec­tion, Har­ris called the con­fir­ma­tion vote a “de­nial of jus­tice for women.”

And last month Warren, 69, bor­rowed the lan­guage of #MeToo, declar­ing it was time to elect a fe­male pres­i­dent and tell Wash­ing­ton: “Time’s up.”

That mes­sage res­onates with vot­ers like Jew­els Mor­gan, a bi­ol­o­gist who held a fig­urine of Warren as the real-life ver­sion cam­paigned last week at Clay­ton State Univer­sity in Ge­or­gia. Warren, best known as a critic of cor­po­rate power, classed women with African-Amer­i­cans and stu­dents as groups op­pressed by a “rigged sys­tem.”

Mor­gan, 41, said it was “ex­tremely im­por­tant” to elect a woman pres­i­dent, nam­ing Warren as a fa­vorite along­side Har­ris and Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, also a critic of Ka­vanaugh.

“Trump be­ing elected in 2016 re­ally opened up a lot of av­enues for women to fi­nally stand up for our­selves and show that we are ev­ery bit as amaz­ing as guys are,” Mor­gan said, “and that we have the abil­ity to run this coun­try.”

The Demo­cratic pri­mary field is likely to be crowded and di­verse, and there is no sign that Demo­cratic men in­tend to mute their am­bi­tions in 2020. But a pri­mary de­fined by gen­der could imperil some men: Joe Bi­den, the for­mer vice pres­i­dent, has been strug­gling to ad­dress his role lead­ing the 1991 Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hear­ings. Michael Bloomberg, the for­mer New York City mayor, re­cently drew back­lash for ques­tion­ing el­e­ments of the #MeToo move­ment.


U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand, D-N.Y., cam­paigns with Molly Kelly, left, New Hamp­shire Democrats’ nom­i­nee for gov­er­nor, on Thurs­day in Con­cord, N.H.

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