Having lost their hopes of seeing a woman elected president in 2020, feminist and progressive groups are now pressuring the men still in the Democratic presidential primary for a consolation prize: How about a female veep?
Emily’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Women’s March, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund are among 11 organizations urging the remaining Democratic contenders to commit to advancing women and people of color. Specifically, they’re asking them to choose a female vice president; appoint women to at least half of their Cabinet positions and consider racial, religious, and gender identity representation in all presidential appointments.
“We know that the only way to guarantee that women’s issues stay on the agenda is if women are the ones setting it,” the coalition said in a press release and letter this week.
A second coalition of women, including representatives of the Working Families Party, the American Federation of Teachers and the Association of Flight Attendants, issued another set of demands Wednesday to the Democratic National Committee as well as the candidates. In addition to calling for a female vice president and a majority-female Cabinet, they urged them to make women’s economic issues a priority in the first 100 days in office and to develop a platform that reflects the voices of women from every community.
“Democratic victory in 2020 will depend on record-breaking participation by women," they wrote. "Women are the backbone of the Democratic party. Women are a majority of Democratic voters, volunteers and donors.”
Kelly Dittmar, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University–Camden and scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics, likened the organizations’ muscle-flexing to that of Black women. In 2017, they demanded that the DNC better engage on their issues, since they were proving to be the party’s reliable voting bloc.
In the Democratic presidential primaries, women voters have dominated the turnout, though they have not coalesced around a single candidate, and a diverse primary field that once included six female candidates has been winnowed to two white men. (One of the women, US Representative Tulsi Gabbard, remains in the race, but without a path to the nomination, since she has won only enough votes to claim two convention delegates.)
But the calculations will be different in the general election, where the Democrats can be sure of their base, said Dittmar.
"This is a group of voters that is essential to the Democratic party,” said Dittmar.
One of the activists who signed on to both letters said it will be important for the Democratic nominee to line up with a woman in the general election showdown against President Trump.
“We think that it sends an important message that women’s leadership is not just valued, but their leadership and partnership is considered crucial to their success as president,” said Shaunna Thomas, executive director of UltraViolet, a feminist group that works to fight sexism in politics and other sectors, like media. She pointed to the surge in voters, particularly suburban women, who were seen as rejecting sexism when they turned out for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. This time around, she said, she thinks the eventual Democratic nominee must go even farther, to present himself as “Not just not Trump but the anti-Trump.”
“I don’t think it’s enough to just reject sexism. I think these candidate need to be anti-sexist, anti-misogynist," she said. "And I think one really important way to do that is to bring a woman along on the ticket as a partner.”
Most of the women’s groups now making the push for the vice presidency stayed out of the fray when women were competing for the top spot on the Democratic ticket. Emily’s List, the influential campaign fundraising group, did not endorse a presidential candidate until 5 p.m. the night before Super Tuesday. By then, US Senator Amy Klobuchar had dropped out of contention, leaving US Senator Elizabeth Warren as the last woman standing with viable hopes of a win. She fared poorly the next day and dropped out of the race later that week.
Women’s organizations have been conflicted in recent years on whether to throw their weight behind a particular candidate when there are several women in the race who meet their qualifications (in the case of Emily’s List, that means supporting reproductive rights). Emily’s List courted controversy in 2018 by endorsing one of two women running for governor of Georgia — Stacey Abrams — over the other, Stacey Evans. Abrams had been leading in fund-raising and had the potential to make history as the nation’s first Black female governor.
Though she was not successful in Georgia, her star turn made Abrams one of the contenders now being mentioned by women voters as a fresh diverse face who could excite a Democratic ticket topped by a white septuagenarian man. Another is US Senator Kamala Harris, who dropped out of the race for president in December, and who endorsed Biden last week.
And, Thomas noted, the nominee is going to need to generate excitement to beat Trump.
“It’s going to be necessary for the enthusiasm factor — we have to have high turnout in the general,” she said. “The enthusiasm factor is going to potentially have a lot to do with what they do or don’t believe the Democratic nominee is going to fight for.”