Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee

At a birthday party for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRoger Stone challenges Dems to produce WikiLeaks evidence Steve King asks Google CEO for names of employees to see if they're liberals O'Rourke edges out Biden in MoveOn straw poll MORE in October, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinPence casts tie-breaking vote for Trump appeals court judge Time fumbles another 'Person of the Year' by excluding Kavanaugh Bottom Line 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 MikulskiAthletic directors honor best former student-athletes on Capitol Hill Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree MORE (D-Md.), Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisO'Rourke edges out Biden in MoveOn straw poll Kamala Harris to keep seat on Judiciary Committee California dreamin’ in the 2020 presidential race 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 TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE in 2020.

Some of the party’s strongest potential candidates are women, including Harris and Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenGillum to speak at gathering of top Dem donors: report O'Rourke edges out Biden in MoveOn straw poll Dems ask if Trump aide Bill Shine is breaking ethics laws MORE (D-Mass.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandPavlich: The media gets woke on the Women’s March Warren has contacted 100 people in early 2020 primary states: report O’Rourke is fireball, but not all Dems are sold 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) SandersCoal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee Gillum to speak at gathering of top Dem donors: report O'Rourke edges out Biden in MoveOn straw poll MORE (I-Vt.), former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenUniversity of Delaware renames public policy school after Joe Biden Dems attracted to O'Rourke because he demonstrates civility, says political analyst The case for reauthorizing VAWA MORE and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGillum to speak at gathering of top Dem donors: report Dem: 'Disheartening' that Republicans who 'stepped up' to defend Mueller are leaving McConnell agrees to vote on Trump-backed criminal justice bill 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 CoonsDem: 'Disheartening' that Republicans who 'stepped up' to defend Mueller are leaving IRS issues guidance aimed at limiting impact of tax on nonprofits' parking expenses Focus on Yemen, not the Saudi crown prince 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.