2020 presidential race: A historic number of women are running

The fifth female lawmaker to enter the 2020 presidential race officially announced her candidacy on Sunday — and remarkably, this historic moment doesn’t even seem like a huge deal.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) joined the ranks of top-tier Democratic women to challenge Donald Trump for the presidency, highlighting her working-class roots and wide regional appeal at a wintry campaign launch event in Minneapolis on Sunday.

Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard had all previously announced that they’re running for the Democratic nomination. You can also add to that list political outsider Marianne Williamson, Oprah’s spiritual adviser and self-proclaimed “bitch for God,” who formally announced her candidacy last month.

Never before have two female candidates faced off at a televised presidential debate; this year there could be at least six.

That’s just one of the many record-breaking moments to come in what promises to be a historic 2020 season. Yes, two white men are the highest-polling Democrats in early 2020 rankings, despite the fact that either have yet to announce their candidacies. But the crowded field of Democrats vying for the party’s nomination is more racially and ethnically diverse than any seen before. Depending on how the first few months of campaigning go for some of these candidates, ballots in many states won’t be dominated by the names of older white men as is typically the case.

After 2018 won the label of a new “Year of the Woman,” record-breaking precedents are now the new norm. There’s still a lot of work to be done, to be sure. But a historic number of women were elected to Congress last year. We now have the most women to ever serve in the US Senate at a single time. And a greater number of those woman are first-time politicians; they come from diverse backgrounds and hold power as the heads of influential committees.

But what’s even more remarkable is that the prospect of so many female candidates already on the campaign trail in 2019 feels so normal and expected, that it hardly feels like a big deal.

The female-packed 2020 field is truly remarkable — you can thank Hillary Clinton (and certainly Donald Trump)

Given the historic year we’ve had, we almost have to remind ourselves that Hillary Clinton was the first — and only — woman to ever become a major party nominee for president. That just two and a half years ago, a woman won the popular vote but came up short.

The re-litigation of that election could last forever, and it’s almost certain to take up an ample amount of airtime and print for the coming weeks and months.

But chief among the lessons out of that campaign season is our public reckoning with female candidates on a national level. There’s a far greater awareness of the sexist overtones of debating a female candidate’s “likeability,” from measuring how she dresses, the ways she treats her staff, or the sound of her voice. That might not mean any of the female candidates currently running will get elected, but it could mean a slightly easier path.

Already we’re seeing this fresh crop of female candidates facing the same sexist tropes that Clinton lived through in 2016. As Vox’s Laura McGann wrote last June:

Despite #MeToo, despite the rise of the women-led resistance, and despite an unprecedented number of women running in Democratic congressional primaries across the country this year, a vocal faction of liberals is holding women in the Democratic Party to an old double standard. When men are ambitious and make savvy political moves, they’re admired. When women do the same thing, they’re admonished.

“Nothing draws fire like a woman moving forward,” said Hillary Clinton, as her communications director Jennifer Palmieri recounted in her book, Dear Madam President. But now women in the Democratic Party are drawing friendly fire.

Still an undeniable cultural shift has taken hold since 2016. The cynicism brought by the Trump era, from his administration’s policies that hurt women and threaten reproductive rights, has helped galvanize a movement of politically active women. Women have fought back at every level of government since Trump took office, inspired to take a more active role in the policies that affect them directly.

“That was a big thing for me last spring, watching men talking about defunding Planned Parenthood,” said Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, the then-Democratic nominee, now-congresswoman for Texas’s Seventh Congressional District, told Vox’s Ella Nilsen last year. “If women were having that conversation, I think the outcomes would be different.”

They’ve marched on Washington, demanded that stories of violence and pain be believed, and held powerful men to account. And now the presence of women vying for the most powerful position in the world is the expectation, not the outlier.

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