2020: Women Have Forever Changed Presidential Politics


Last year for the first time in our nation’s history we saw a record total of six women go after the Democratic presidential nomination — Senators Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and author Marianne Williamson.

We start 2020 with only three still on the ballot for the Washington primary in March — Warren, Klobuchar and Gabbard. (Williamson didn’t qualify). While Warren is hanging in there in the top tier in fundraising and polls, it is becoming increasingly difficult to envision a scenario where one of them becomes the Democratic nominee.

Even if one does not secure the nomination, they have forever changed the landscape of presidential politics. We can expect going forward to see women entering the race in 2024 and beyond, and one will finally get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The bonanza of women that sought the Democratic nomination this cycle also reflects the increase in women running for office at all levels. Not only did a record number of women win election to Congress in 2018, but a growing number of those who lost that race already have filed to run again. These rebound candidates at both the federal and state level come to the fray armed with more established networks of donors, greater name recognition and honed political skills. A recent local example is that of Tammy Morales, who won a seat on the Seattle City Council in 2019 after an earlier failed bid. While some are running for the same seat they failed to win before, others are taking on new challenges. Amy McGrath lost a hard fought Kentucky congressional race in 2018, but this time the former Marine pilot has set her sights on unseating Senator Mitch McConnell.

Key to the electoral success of all women candidates has been showing that they can raise money. After the 1992 “year of the woman,” when voters sent more women to Congress than ever before, I interviewed Ellen Malcolm, founder of EMILY’s List. I learned that there is no “Emily.” The organization’s name stands for “early money is like yeast.” And as Malcolm told me, “it makes the dough rise.”

Since those early years, EMILY’s List has become a major fundraising motor for Democratic pro-choice women running for office at the federal, state and local level. Besides bundling funds for its endorsed candidates, the organization provides training and a network of support that has inspired and aided many successful women candidates. The push to get greater representation of women is supported by a growing number of groups spurred by the continuing political gender gap, especially for women of color. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, “126 (105D, 21R) women hold seats in the United States Congress, comprising 23.6% of the 535 members.”

The National Women’s Political Caucus, which predates EMILY’s List, has an active Washington chapter that supports women of any party if they concur on key issues like social justice and reproductive justice. Other organizations working to elect women include Running Start (which is nonpartisan and issue neutral) Higher Heights, She Should Run, Emerge, Ignite , Latinas Represent and more. Most of these support pro-choice Democrats. A few organizations, like Right Women Right Now, focus on electing Republican women.

The growth in these organizations and in the number of women running for office has a lot to do with women getting better at finding the “dough” Malcolm cited. While the women with their eye not the White House don’t top the fundraising charts, Warren, Klobuchar and Gabbard have raked in impressive sums. The totals recently announced for 2019 fourth quarter fundraising were:

• Bernie Sanders: $34.5 million
• Pete Buttigieg: $24.7 million
• Joe Biden: $22.7 million
• Elizabeth Warren: $21.2 million
• Andrew Yang: $16.5 million
• Amy Klobuchar: $11.4 million
• Cory Booker: $6.6 million
• Tulsi Gabbard: $3.4 million

Warren’s total shows she remains a serious contender. I like to think the Klobuchar may start to get more traction. Gabbard needs to drop out. For details of their fundraising and expenditures, check out the Federal Election Commission full set of data.

How are the women presidential hopefuls faring in Washington State? Recent FEC data shows that Washington donors so far gave the most to Sanders ($1.051 million) followed by Trump ($1.043 million) followed by Warren ($1.002 million), Buttigieg ($777,177), Biden ($673,330), Harris ($578,244) Booker ($217,586), and Klobuchar ($176,000).

With so many qualified women running this cycle and more waiting in the wings, we are getting closer to putting a woman in the White House and to political parity at all levels. It may not happen in 2020, but every woman running this cycle is making it more likely it will happen one day.

Linda Kramer Jenning
Linda Kramer Jenning
Linda Kramer Jenning is an independent journalist who moved to Bainbridge Island after several decades reporting from Washington, D.C. She taught journalism at Georgetown University and is former Washington editor of Glamour.


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