Historic number of women aim for Madam President; experts credit #MeToo, recruitment efforts

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Nearly a year before the 2020 presidential primaries formally begin, more women than ever from a major political party have announced their candidacy or formed an exploratory committee.

Four of the nine Democrats who have thrown their hat in the ring for their party’s nomination are women. And yet more may join.

“We’ve never seen this before, this is part of the revolution of women, of political progress,” said Debbie Walsh, director of Rutgers University’s Center for American Women in Politics. “We’ve never had multiple women like this, running on one side. In the Democratic primary debates, the stage is going to look different.”

Two members of Congress — Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii — have formally launched campaigns. Two others, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have launched exploratory committees.

And on Jan. 15, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who in December said she was considering running, struck a more serious tone about entering the race. “Big news today, my family is on board … so showing momentum,” she said on MSNBC.

The historic number of female candidates vying for the presidency marks a turning point for U.S. presidential politics and, of course, for women. And it dramatically raises the ceiling established by Hillary Clinton in 2016 when she became the first woman to be a major party’s presidential nominee.

The explosion of female presidential candidates perhaps comes as no surprise, given the huge success of women in the congressional midterm elections in November. In both the House and Senate, more women won election than at any time in U.S. history.

“We think it’s fantastic,” said Christina Reynolds, vice president of communications for EMILY’S List, the most powerful organization in the U.S., a group focused on supporting pro-choice Democratic female candidates. “These women are running and they’re incredibly qualified, they’re being judged on their merits. Every woman who runs makes it easier for the next woman who runs.”

Having a group of strong female contenders, Reynolds said, helps change the notion of a female presidential candidate from being a novelty to being a norm.

“When we’ve thought of a candidate (for federal office), we instinctively think of a guy in a suit,” Reynolds said. “What these women are doing just by running is changing that” and creating a new normal.

The momentum among women running for Congress and president, many say, is fueled by several factors, including the hashtag Me Too movement, as well as outrage over controversial remarks Trump has made about women.

There’s also the decades of efforts by groups such as EMILY’s List to identify and prepare women to run for office.

“We’ve been working for 35 years on building a pipeline for women candidates,” Reynold said of EMILY’s List, which has more than 5 million members and for the midterms spent a record $110 million in support of Democratic female candidates. “Women are looking at what has been a tough time in our history, and see the things they believed in getting overturned, and they rolled up their sleeves and said they’ll do [what needs to be done] themselves.”

“It’s a thing women do, decide ‘I’m going to fix things.’”

EMILY’s List has prioritized identifying women to run for local and state positions, a traditional springboard for men to running for Congress, and the presidency.

“Look at Kamala Harris,” Reynolds said, “She was an attorney, district attorney, then [California] attorney general and U.S. senator. We want more women to have the same path.”

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