Washington, United States | AFP | Two years after Hillary Clinton failed in her historic bid for the White House, a record number of women are already racing to oust Donald Trump in 2020 — and are banking on American voters being ready this time around to help them smash the ultimate glass ceiling.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, 69, was the first well-known Democrat out of the starting blocks, announcing her intention to run on the final day of 2018.
Three other women swiftly followed suit: Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, 52, and Kamala Harris, 54, along with underdog candidate Tulsi Gabbard, a 37-year-old congresswoman.
Heavyweights tipped to join the contest also include former vice president Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, ex-congressman Beto O’Rourke and billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
But for now, women candidates are grabbing the 2020 headlines.
The number of high-profile women in the race is “historically unprecedented,” said Erin Cassese, a political science professor at the University of Delaware.
A fourth female senator, Amy Klobuchar, is mulling throwing her hat in the ring.
They all may be standing on the shoulders of a key predecessor.
Addressing bereft supporters on election night 2016, Clinton acknowledged her defeat to Trump — ending her quest to become the nation’s first female president.
“But someday someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now,” the Democratic nominee said at the time.
Her rival seized the White House in a shock election victory, overcoming accusations of sexual harassment and a stream of misogynistic comments on the campaign trail.
Now, said Senator Tim Kaine, who was Clinton’s running mate, “there’s a delightful poetic justice in strong women candidates” for the 2020 nomination.
“If there’s one thing I learned painfully in 2016, it was the ugliness of the double standard that was applied to the first woman nominee for president,” Kaine told AFP.
“We got a ways to go for women to be treated the way they ought to be treated” in politics, he said, adding that the strong showing by Democrats in November’s congressional elections “demonstrated great energy for women candidates.”
– ‘Double bind’ –
Several records were broken during the midterms, which saw the greatest number of women ever elected not only to Congress, but to state assemblies across the 50 states.
With four or more female candidates vying for the White House, presidential politics appears to be undergoing a shift — “a pink wave,” if you will, said Cassese.
“When one woman runs, which is the way it’s been done in the past, she’s going to get pigeon-holed into this anomaly,” she said.
This time, there will be a focus on policy, Cassese hopes, in addition to close attention to how female candidates run against one another.
That said, she doubts they will escape the lot of most women in politics: “this double bind” of having to appear both warmly personable, and competent.
“But it’s very hard for them to do both at the same time.”
Candidates for 2020 — Warren, especially — have already been scrutinized through this “likability” prism, which observers note is rarely used for male candidates but was relentlessly applied to Clinton, who was often criticized as lacking a certain naturalness.
Female candidates are often pushed into making a “strategic calculus,” Cassese said: stress women’s issues, or purposely downplay a campaign’s gender elements. It is often difficult to determine which works best.
Known for campaigning against sexual assault, Gillibrand launched her 2020 bid as a “mom” dedicated to help working and struggling families. Her name is offset by pink trim on her website.
Others dwell less on gender, but by no means do they present it as taboo.
Americans had appeared prepared to elect a woman president in 2016, and nationwide Clinton won nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump despite losing the state-by-state Electoral College tally.
Kamala Harris, who would become the first black female and first Indian-American president if she won, has no doubt that US voters are prepared to take a radical departure from Trump to elect a woman.
“Absolutely,” she told ABC before her official announcement. “Give the people more credit. They are smarter than that.”