This presidential election cycle has a record number of women running for commander-in-chief. Still, these female candidates must navigate the question of "electability," a double-standard ー one former Hillary Clinton staffer says ー that they will have to beat back throughout the campaign.
"The ultimate answer is that to be electable, you have to win," said Amanda Litman, the executive director of Run for Something, a political action committee that aims to elect young Democrats. Litman previously served as the email director for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.
"It's important to step back and realize what we're talking about when we talk about electability. It's the understanding of what voters think that other voters wants. It is an entirely faulty premise based on racist, sexist, and classist understandings of what a president looks like."
"It is total garbage," she argues.
Litman says that in order to challenge the conception that women can't win higher elected offices, it will require support for different types of female leaders, finding ways to make voters and donors comfortable in expressing support for their favored-candidates, and building a stronger pipeline of qualified female politicians through state and local races.
"We saw Kamala Harris in the debate really take on her opponents in a way that was sort of masculine-coded leadership. We've seen Elizabeth Warren whip out plan after plan after plan. We've see Kirsten Gillibrand be aggressive with interviewers who she doesn't think are giving her a fair shake," said Litman. "Each of them is showing a different way of being a female leader."
"Over the last two years, the number of women of color in state legislatures has more than tripled. The number of women in state legislators writ large has gone up by huge numbers," added Litman. "This means, down the line, there will be more qualified women to run for Congress, for governor, and for president."
A record number of women were elected to Congress in the 2018 midterm election, and a record number of women of color were elected to the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, women hold nearly 30 percent of state legislative seats ー totaling more than more than 2,100 ー according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.
"Women need this experience in order to be considered serious leaders," Litman said. "A woman couldn't get away with a weak resume like a man could."
She pointed out that the serious female contenders for president ー Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Sen. Tulsi Gabbard ー are all current lawmakers. The exception: author and public speaker Marianne Williamson, who has qualified to participate in the second round of the Democratic debates.
Litman says that women can beat male competitors by being willing to work harder and engaging on issues like child care, health care, school, and the opioid crisis. "Mediocre women don't tend to run for office. Only excellent women do," she said.
"The ultimate answer is that to be electable, you have to win," Litman added.