Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee

At a birthday party for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Dem pollster: GOP women have a more difficult time winning primary races than Dems Mellman: (Mis)interpreting elections MORE in October, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families California Dems endorse progressive challenger over Feinstein MORE (D-Calif.) delivered a toast — and a sobering thought — for the evening’s attendees: “If Hillary couldn’t win the White House, I don’t know which woman can.” 

Some of the partygoers — including the former Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree Clinton: White House slow-walking Russia sanctions MORE (D-Md.), Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Rasmussen poll: Nearly three-quarters of Dems want 'fresh face' as nominee in 2020 Kamala Harris lands book deal MORE (D-Calif.) and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — nodded ruefully as Feinstein, standing in the doorway of a family room at the Georgetown home of major Democratic donor Elizabeth Bagley, made the remark, according to two attendees.  

Months later, it’s at times hard to imagine Democrats failing to nominate a woman as their standard-bearer against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE in 2020.

Some of the party’s strongest potential candidates are women, including Harris and Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Dems call for hearings on Trump’s CFPB nominee to be put on hold Dems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women MORE (D-Mass.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women ‘Abolish ICE’ is going to hurt Democrats in the midterms 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser MORE (D-N.Y.). 

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More pointedly, the rise of the #MeToo movement and Trump’s own controversies with women make it feel incongruous for Democrats to name a white man as their candidate in the next presidential race.

“The MeToo movement is a powerful force that could lead to Democratic midterm wins in 2018 and victory in the 2020 presidential race,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. 

“The presence of a female candidate way at the top of the ticket in 2020 would be the best way to harness the energy of the MeToo force; a powerful current ignited by Harvey Weinstein's behavior that could undermine Donald Trump's campaign for a second presidential term.”

While a number of strong women candidates appear likely to enter the 2020 race, they are likely to get some competition from the likes of Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersMellman: (Mis)interpreting elections Dems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Rasmussen poll: Nearly three-quarters of Dems want 'fresh face' as nominee in 2020 MORE (I-Vt.), former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenRasmussen poll: Nearly three-quarters of Dems want 'fresh face' as nominee in 2020 Biden: Trump, Putin presser was 'beneath the dignity' of the presidency Biden: I’m ‘ashamed’ of Trump’s border policies MORE and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Booker: Trump's national security officials face 'serious' choice after Putin summit MORE (D-N.J.), among others.

And Trump’s own surprise run to the 2016 GOP presidential nomination shows the foolishness of political predictions.

Some Democrats also say it makes little sense to nominate a woman as the party’s candidate just on the basis of gender.

One senator who spoke to The Hill on condition of anonymity said colleagues are talking more about prioritizing the need to find a candidate who is tough, authentic and credible regardless of gender.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsLawmakers target link between wildlife poaching, terror groups Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Sunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin MORE (D-Del.) said he does not think the Democratic nominee’s gender is “as critical as having someone who can draw a sharp contrast with an incumbent president who has been accused of sexual assault by 18 or 19 people, who has bragged on tape about committing sexual assault.” 

“I think that is one of many areas where the American people are going to look for us to draw a sharp contrast with the incumbent president,” Coons said. 

Feinstein’s comment also highlights questions within the party about whether latent sexism in the U.S. culture would hold a woman back in 2020.

There’s a lurking feeling in the Democratic caucus that Clinton’s gender may have hurt her in battleground states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which voted for a Republican in 2016 for the first time in decades.

“Misogyny is out there and is a factor whether people want to admit it or not,” said one senior Democratic aide. 

Other Democrats say the selection of the nominee should not be so contrived. 

“Democrats should know better than to be cornered by a ‘woman’ mandate,” said Democratic consultant Tracy Sefl, who served as a surrogate on Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. “Voters have already shown they’re looking beyond gender. I’d like to believe that the party will be most eager to put forth a candidate who embraces the #MeToo movement. To whatever close degree the movement resonates with that candidate, woman or man, we need a candidate who be interested in helping propel this stunning cultural shift.” 

Feinstein said she has become more optimistic about the prospect of a woman becoming president since expressing her doubts at the Georgetown event.

“I think there’s been a change since I said that which makes it more possible for a woman to be elected,” she said. “But I think it’s difficult. There’s no question, it’s still difficult,” Feinstein told The Hill. 

Feinstein said the enthusiasm of the #MeToo movement has made the chances of a woman winning the presidency seem more realistic. 

“What’s changed is the strength of women. Women getting out and voting. Women coming together. The #MeToo movement. All of this puts the woman more in the position of being accepted.” 

Even if a woman isn’t on the top of the ticket in 2020, one Senator predicted it will be a diverse team. “It’s not going to be two white men, I can tell you that,” the lawmaker said.