Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee

At a birthday party for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIt is wrong to say 'no collusion' 10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era And the winner of the Robert Mueller Sweepstakes is — Vladimir Putin MORE in October, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions Five takeaways from Mueller's report Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates 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 MikulskiOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar Bottom Line MORE (D-Md.), Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWarren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college Moulton enters 2020 White House race The Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? 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 calls Sri Lankan prime minister following church bombings Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' The biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone MORE in 2020.

Some of the party’s strongest potential candidates are women, including Harris and Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump pushes back on impeachment talk: 'Tables are finally turning on the Witch Hunt!' Warren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college Moulton enters 2020 White House race MORE (D-Mass.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandWarren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college Cory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris Booker to supporter who wanted him to punch Trump: 'Black guys like us, we don't get away with that' 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) SandersThe biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone GOP Senate campaign arm hits battleground-state Dems over 'Medicare for All,' Green New Deal Warren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college MORE (I-Vt.), former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenWarren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college Moulton enters 2020 White House race The Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? MORE and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerWarren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college The Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? Booker: Barr's suggestion of spying on Trump campaign 'eroded' public's trust 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 CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain 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.