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Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee

At a birthday party for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMueller's team asking Manafort about Roger Stone: report O'Rourke targets Cruz with several attack ads a day after debate GOP pollster says polls didn't pick up on movement in week before 2016 election MORE in October, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Pollsters: White college-educated women to decide if Dems capture House Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees American Bar Association dropping Kavanaugh review 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 HarrisElection Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Biden: ‘Totally legitimate’ to question age if he runs in 2020 Fox contributor: Warren's ancestors 'rounded up Cherokees for the Trail of Tears' 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 renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE in 2020.

Some of the party’s strongest potential candidates are women, including Harris and Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren and Sanders question Amazon CEO over Whole Foods anti-union video Senate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel MORE (D-Mass.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandAffordable housing set for spotlight of next presidential campaign Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Senators seek US intel on journalist's disappearance | Army discharged over 500 immigrant recruits in one year | Watchdog knocks admiral over handling of sexual harassment case Pentagon watchdog knocks top admiral for handling of sexual harassment case 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) SandersBiden: Trump administration 'coddles autocrats and dictators' Warren and Sanders question Amazon CEO over Whole Foods anti-union video Dem lawmaker to Saudis: Take your oil and shove it MORE (I-Vt.), former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden: I hope Dems don't move to impeach Trump if they retake the House Biden: Trump administration 'coddles autocrats and dictators' Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage MORE and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Biden: ‘Totally legitimate’ to question age if he runs in 2020 On The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race 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 senators urge Pompeo to reverse visa policy on diplomats' same-sex partners 15 Saudis identified in disappearance of Washington Post columnist The Senate needs to cool it 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.