Women Candidates Storm 2020 Primary Field

Democrats are set to feature the most diverse presidential pool of contenders ever.

AP Photo Juana Summers
Jan. 16, 2019, 8 p.m.

Three women have revealed their interest in running for president through the first three weeks of the year, and more are on the way.

From Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the development has female contenders on track to outpace their male counterparts in launching exploratory committees and full-blown campaigns.

While an unprecedented scenario, it’s one built upon the midterm momentum that propelled women to victory in record numbers last year.

“When a bunch of men announce and it’s one woman, it’s almost like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster. “But no one knows what it’s like to run in this crowded a field.”

Just three men have declared for the race: former Rep. John Delaney, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, and former West Virginia state Sen. Richard Ojeda.

Meanwhile, more women are expected to announce their political plans in the coming days, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

There is room for all of them, said Democratic strategist Symone Sanders.

“I think their announcement is about them and not anybody else,” Sanders said. “Kamala Harris doesn’t have to base what she’s doing off of Senator Gillibrand, and Senator Gillibrand doesn’t have to base what she’s doing off of Elizabeth Warren, because they’re all powerhouses in their own right.”

“That’s a hard concept for some folks to wrap their head around,” she added, “because this has been a male-dominated game for so long.”

Warren, a progressive from Massachusetts with a national following, was the first high-profile candidate to announce an exploratory committee, rolling out her plans on New Year’s Eve and attracting crowds of women during trips to Iowa and New Hampshire.

“The bad news is, I’ve caught a cold. The good news is, nevertheless, I persist,” Warren said in Sioux City, Iowa, two weeks ago, referencing the slogan that has become synonymous with female empowerment and her personal brand.

Before becoming the first female candidate to share plans to run for president, Warren has long been vocal about national issues affecting women, notably working toward the Equal Rights Amendment and delivering a powerful speech in defense of Planned Parenthood amid a funding battle with Republicans.

Supporters encouraged her to run for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Her decision to forgo that race and announce ahead of other candidates for 2020 may have placed her at an early advantage with female voters, some strategists suggested.

“Elizabeth Warren’s early and successful announcement sort of upped the ante,” Lake said. “In general, women are often advantaged by early announcements because they can get extra attention for it.”

Warren, who will make her second trip to New Hampshire on Friday, generated substantial buzz in the days following her surprise announcement. But just two weeks after she jump-started the primary, Gillibrand shared plans for her own exploratory committee in an appearance on CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. That night, Gillibrand received donations from all 50 states, her campaign told reporters.

Gillibrand, who won reelection in November, has moved left on a variety of policy positions since entering the House 12 years ago and has become the top Senate voice on issues disproportionately affecting women in the MeToo era and the “resistance” to President Trump.

She is taking her pitch to Iowa this weekend with a series of events in Sioux City, Cedar Rapids, Ames, Boone, and Des Moines. She was also scheduled to appear on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show on Wednesday, a show Warren appeared on earlier this month.

“I’m going to run for president of the United States, because as a young mom I am gonna fight for other people’s kids as hard as I fight for my own, which is why I believe health care is a right and not a privilege,” she told Colbert. In a two-minute video released after the show, Gillibrand detailed her record on job creation and showed glimpses of her life with two sons.

She is just one of the Democrats who have subtly courted female voters for months, including writing for women’s magazines and appearing on shows tailor-made for a female demographic, such as ABC’s The View. Gillibrand appeared on that show three times after the 2016 election, tied with Bernie Sanders for the most visits among prospective contenders.

The midterm results, which led to the most women in the House ever, suggest a favorable trend for female candidates up and down the ballot—which Gillibrand plans to emphasize during her campaign. Fifty-eight percent of women say they are paying more attention to politics since Trump became president, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Women running for president can no longer be shrugged aside as novelty candidates,” Republican political strategist Amanda Carpenter said. “They are candidates, period.”

The Gillibrand campaign circulated information sheets Tuesday with statistics highlighting key victories for women in 2018. A separate analysis of ActBlue donations for federal campaigns conducted by the Center for Public Integrity showed that 60 percent of donors during the 2018 cycle were female. Warren and Gillibrand have both vowed not to take corporate PAC donations in 2020.

Gabbard, a self-identified progressive from Hawaii, said last week on CNN’s The Van Jones Show that she has decided to run and would make a formal announcement by this weekend. The last House member to go straight to the White House was James Garfield in 1880, but Gabbard, the first Hindu member of Congress, hopes to change that.

The Iraq War vet lacks her potential opponents’ name recognition but won’t be alone among lesser-known candidates hoping to make a splash in a field lacking a standard-bearer.

“This is a different ballgame,” Symone Sanders said. “For the first time in history, we have women who are getting into the race that have more money than the male candidates, that have just as much if not more experience.”

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