Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee

At a birthday party for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Former PepsiCo CEO being considered for World Bank chief post: report Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing MORE in October, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel Feinstein5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Grandson's note to Barr during confirmation hearing goes viral Barr hearing marks first time Senate Judiciary has GOP women serving on panel 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 MikulskiThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi to reclaim Speakership amid shutdown Athletic directors honor best former student-athletes on Capitol Hill Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee MORE (D-Md.), Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration 5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Kamala Harris releases 'mixtape' on 'The Late Show' amid 2020 speculation 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 TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ MORE in 2020.

Some of the party’s strongest potential candidates are women, including Harris and Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Native American group denounces Trump for using Wounded Knee in attack against Warren MORE (D-Mass.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Hopes fade for bipartisan bills in age of confrontation 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) SandersBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Dem chairman Cummings meets with Trump health chief to discuss drug prices MORE (I-Vt.), former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration 5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert MORE and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Booker presses Barr on impact of mass incarceration on black Americans Barr: I wouldn't go after businesses relying on Obama-era marijuana policy 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 CoonsSunday shows preview: Washington heads into multi-day shutdown Overnight Energy: Senators introduce bipartisan carbon tax bill | House climate panel unlikely to have subpoena power | Trump officials share plan to prevent lead poisoning Flake to co-introduce bipartisan climate bill 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.