Democrats puz­zle over whether a woman can beat Trump in ’20

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY LISA LERER AND SU­SAN CHIRA New York Times

Joyce Cu­sack would love to see a woman as pres­i­dent in her lifetime. But she is not sure it should hap­pen in 2020.

“Are we ready in 2020? I re­ally don’t think we are,” said Cu­sack, 75, a former Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee mem­ber from Florida. Too many Amer­i­cans may not want to “take an­other chance” on a fe­male can­di­date, Cu­sack said, af­ter Hil­lary Clin­ton was met with mis­trust and even hos­til­ity in swing states.

Vot­ers, Cu­sack said, won’t be will­ing to back a can­di­date who isn’t a white male.

But Andy Mcguire, former chair­woman of the Iowa Demo­cratic Party, sees a dif­fer­ent reality af­ter a record num­ber of Demo­cratic women won races in the 2018 midterms. “I’d go back to this last elec­tion – who won?” said Mcguire, who, as a su­perdel­e­gate like Cu­sack, sup­ported Clin­ton at the 2016 con­ven­tion. “Who had the ex­cite­ment? Who had all the vol­un­teers and power be­hind them? It was women.”

As the 2020 pri­mary com­pe­ti­tion gets un­der­way with El­iz­a­beth War­ren’s en­try into the race, and with sev­eral other women likely to be early con­tenders, two com­pet­ing nar­ra­tives have emerged about the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other woman lead­ing the Demo­cratic ticket, in­ter­views with more than three dozen party of­fi­cials, vot­ers and poll­sters showed.

The year of the woman and the midterm gains that fol­lowed elec­tri­fied Democrats, who have ea­gerly pro­moted them­selves as the party of di­ver­sity. That suc­cess has in­spired some of the most pow­er­ful women in pol­i­tics to con­sider run­ning for pres­i­dent. And it has boosted ex­pec­ta­tions that the po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­lus for women has changed in the past two years, and that gen­der could be­come an as­set, even in a pres­i­den­tial con­test. Clin­ton, af­ter all, won the pop­u­lar vote by al­most 3 mil­lion.

Yet at a time of as­cen­dancy for women in the party, there’s a lin­ger­ing doubt in some quar­ters about whether there is a risk in­volved in nom­i­nat­ing a woman to take on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, whom Democrats fer­vently want to un­seat.

The specter of Clin­ton’s de­feat in 2016 still haunts some Demo­cratic of­fi­cials, vot­ers and ac­tivists. There is wide­spread recog­ni­tion that women in pol­i­tics are held to a dif­fer­ent stan­dard than men on qual­i­ties like lik­a­bil­ity, and tough­ness, and that vot­ers have tra­di­tion­ally been more re­luc­tant to elect women as ex­ec­u­tives than as leg­is­la­tors.

Some women see bias in the ex­cite­ment sur­round­ing a po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial run by Beto O'rourke, the Texan who en­er­gized the left in a los­ing Se­nate bid, while Stacey Abrams is not men­tioned as a pos­si­bil­ity even though she had a much nar­rower loss for gov­er­nor of Ge­or­gia.

“There’s a real ten­sion,” said Neera Tan­den, pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress and a former pol­icy ad­viser to Clin­ton. “On one hand, women are lead­ing the re­sis­tance and de­serve rep­re­sen­ta­tion. But on the other side, there’s a fear that if misog­yny beat Clin­ton, it can beat other women.”

Much of the de­bate is grounded in the ques­tion of whether Clin­ton’s loss rep­re­sented a re­jec­tion of women as pres­i­dent, or of one spe­cific woman. How sig­nif­i­cant a role sex­ism played in Clin­ton’s de­feat is dif­fi­cult to sep­a­rate from the other li­a­bil­i­ties that hin­dered her cam­paign. Clin­ton strug­gled to deal with decades of po­lit­i­cal bag­gage and a Repub­li­can at­tack ma­chine that cast her as aloof, elit­ist and dis­con­nected. Her re­liance on a tight-knit in­ner cir­cle iso­lated her from tough po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges, and she strug­gled to win over work­ing class white women and men.

If Democrats nom­i­nate a woman in 2020, she will most likely face an on­slaught of gen­der-based at­tacks from Trump, who did not hes­i­tate in 2016 to mock the phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance and stamina of his fe­male op­po­nents. As the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Trump car­ried more vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties on gen­der than any other mod­ern can­di­date, fac­ing al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment and hav­ing a record of lewd com­ments about women.

Still, exit polls in­di­cated that a ma­jor­ity of white women voted for Trump, help­ing him seal cru­cial Elec­toral Col­lege vic­to­ries in tra­di­tion­ally Demo­cratic states like Penn­syl­va­nia and Michi­gan.

As Democrats look to­ward 2020, the con­ver­sa­tion is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant be­cause the 2020 pri­mary sea­son could prove to be as his­toric as the 2008 and 2016 races; in those years, Clin­ton be­came the first woman to be­come a top­tier can­di­date and then a nom­i­nee.

For the first time, mul­ti­ple women may be se­ri­ous con­tenders: War­ren is in, and Sens. Ka­mala Har­ris of Cal­i­for­nia, Kirsten Gil­li­brand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota are se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing run­ning. A fe­male front-run­ner would be­come a norm if a woman wins the nom­i­na­tion four years af­ter Clin­ton did.

Women’s po­lit­i­cal mo­bi­liza­tion – as vol­un­teers, can­di­dates and donors – fu­eled the Demo­cratic Party’s gains in the Novem­ber elec­tions, and Democrats still far out­pace Republicans in el­e­vat­ing women to party lead­er­ship and rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Congress. Fe­male politi­cians now head all four of the Democrats’ cam­paign com­mit­tees.

ERIN SCHAFF NYT

A cutout of Hil­lary Clin­ton with mem­o­ra­bilia from the 2016 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Philadel­phia. Sev­eral Demo­cratic women will prob­a­bly com­pete in 2020.

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