At a time when President Obama is under fire for selecting an inner circle of Cabinet officials dominated by white men, Democrats are facing another unpleasant reminder. Despite the party’s diversifying Congressional caucus, there aren’t many obvious female presidential contenders for 2016, if Hillary Clinton ends up passing up a repeat bid.
Indeed, the paradox facing the Democratic Party is that even though women constituted a critical part of President Obama's winning coalition in November, the slate of possible candidates for 2016 is predominantly male.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Even Vice President Joe Biden, who turns 74 at the end of Obama’s second term, is getting renewed buzz. Where are all the women?
"Democrats should really be more depressed about the fact that their potential 2016 field is a lot less diverse than the GOP’s," ABC News political director Amy Walter wrote Thursday. “Take away Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic bench looks more like that picture in the New York Times’ than it does the picture of Obama’s 2012 voting coalition.”
Democratic women’s groups, fresh off celebrating a record number of women elected to the Senate, aren’t all that worried. They argue that under the surface, the party has a pipeline of women who could very well be viable presidential candidates in four years. EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock, whose group’s mission is to elect Democratic women to office, emphasized that the key to promoting viable female presidential candidates is ensuring women are amply represented in the political farm system of senators and governors -- a mission the group achieved with flying colors in 2012.
"Look at the elections of [Hawaii Sen.] Mazie Hirono and [Wisconsin Sen.] Tammy Baldwin, who we helped recruit," Schriock said in an interview with National Journal. "This is a long game for us. We want to increase women in leadership in this country because we believe in a representative democracy."
Translation: Wait until 2014 before declaring. It's a fair point, especially given that many of the leading Republican prospects (Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Kelly Ayotte) were elected just a few years before the 2012 presidential election. So here's a look at the most plausible female candidates for the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 2016 -- as things currently stand.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York—The junior senator from New York doesn’t get quite as many headlines as her senior partner Chuck Schumer, but is building a strong national profile of her own – most recently taking up the cause for increased gun control. At 39, she began her political career by ousting then-Republican Rep. John Sweeney in a Republican-leaning House district. After being appointed to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat, she coasted to victory and established herself as a prolific fundraiser – a necessary skill for any presidential candidate. She won reelection to a six-year term in November with 73 percent of the vote against her Republican challenger.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire—Shaheen is the first woman in U.S. history to be elected both governor and U.S. senator, giving her valuable executive and legislative experience. More importantly, she hails from the first-in-the-nation primary state, never a bad thing for someone with presidential ambitions. New Hampshire has been very hospitable to female candidates, overall – it’s the first state with an all-female Congressional delegation and a female governor, too (Democrat Maggie Hassan) Shaheen’s 2008 victory over John Sununu was the Democrats' first Senate victory in the state since 1974.
Speaking about the prospects of Clinton's candidacy in 2016 on MSNBC on Thursday, Shaheen said, "I certainly hope in my lifetime I'm going to see a woman president." Left unasked: Whether she would be the one to break the streak.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts—Warren is about as high-profile as they come. Her victory over former Republican Sen. Scott Brown restored Massachusetts' all-Democratic Congressional delegation. An architect of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, she proved that she’s a fundraising super star, raising $42 million in 2012, according to campaign finance reports. But having just survived a hotly-contested race, Warren isn’t even thinking beyond the Senate. Asked if she would run in 2016, she told ABC’s Jonathan Karl: “”No, No, No, No, No.” That said, as Karl noted, Obama also denied any interest in a presidential campaign before changing his mind.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota—Klobuchar’s re-election victory was so sweeping that she won nearly every county in Minnesota, save for two small ones. She’s been touted as a future Supreme Court nominee, but the presidential bug might be a more realistic route for a promotion. Her home state isn’t too far from Iowa, where her work on the farm bill would play well. In a recent interview with National Journal, former Minnesota GOP Sen. Norm Coleman acknowledged her legislative productivity: "Amy Klobuchar? You can list 20 things she's known for.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota— Shocking many political pundits, Heitkamp’s campaign savvy was on full display in 2012, when she defeated the state’s at-large congressman Rick Berg, in the solidly-Republican state of North Dakota. The Washington Post named her the best candidate of 2012, writing: "North Dakota was consistently near the top of Republicans’ wish list for most of the cycle, and Heitkamp’s win there was among the most stinging defeats for the GOP."
She holds law enforcement credentials as a former state attorney general, and already has been making the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to represent the party.