This time last year, the Democratic presidential field was shaping up to be the most diverse in history, with contenders who were men and women and black and white and Latino and straight and gay and baby boomers and millennials.
This week, save for one long-shot candidate, it’s down to two septuagenarian, heterosexual white men vying to take on another septuagenarian, heterosexual white man.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, once seen as a strong contender to win the Democratic presidential nomination, on Thursday announced she’s suspending her campaign, dealing a gut punch to her supporters, especially women who saw Warren as a candidate with whom they could identify. Many of those voters felt rejuvenated by the political gains women made in 2018, thinking 2020 might be their shot at seeing a woman in the Oval Office.
Among the top-tier contenders who aren’t white men, Warren held on the longest.
Now, for some Democratic women, the newly winnowed field feels like a letdown that evokes similar feelings of sadness and defeat to when Hillary Clinton, the first woman to be nominated for president by a major political party, lost in the general election in 2016.
“Many of us weren’t surprised to see a well-qualified woman yet again finish behind men,” said State Rep. Leanne Krueger (D., Delaware), who endorsed Warren. “But it was still disappointing to see it.”
Krueger and other Warren supporters are trying to figure out what’s next in their quest to see the highest glass ceiling broken. Ahead of the Pennsylvania primary, still nearly two months away, some say they plan to vote for Bernie Sanders, whose progressive message and stance on universal health care align closely with Warren’s. Some will vote for Joe Biden because, they surmise, his moderation might play better in the general election and deliver Democrats the best chance to defeat President Donald Trump.
Other voters in Pennsylvania are waiting to see who’s chosen as a running mate — a woman has also never served as vice president — while they grapple with the anger and disappointment of watching their chance to see a woman win the presidency slip away for the second time in four years.
Jada Gossett, a 24-year-old Drexel graduate who lives in Upper Darby, supported both Warren and Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator who dropped out the day before Super Tuesday and endorsed Biden. Gossett said she’ll likely vote for Sanders come the Pennsylvania primary, but she’s not jazzed about it.
More upsetting, she said, is that — save for Tulsi Gabbard, who has won just one delegate thus far — women and people of color are gone from the race.
“Any opportunity to diversify the field and empower people who have not previously had such kind of power makes a difference,” Gossett said. “I just don’t see why we need another old white guy who’s out of touch and who has never experienced any real kind of systemic hardships."
In assessing why the field was whittled down mostly to men, Gossett and others blamed a variety of factors, sexism and misogyny chief among them.
“I think, for lack of a better way to phrase it, I think it’s because she’s a woman,” said Morley McCaul, a 24-year-old Warren supporter who lives in West Chester. “She hasn’t gotten enough media attention. She’s been tossed out.”
Research shows that while few voters admit they wouldn’t vote for a woman for president, sexism and gender-based stereotypes permeate the campaign trail, whether it’s in the language used to describe female candidates — unlikable, shrill, overly ambitious — or the constant questioning of their electability.
Speaking to reporters outside her home in Cambridge, Mass., on Thursday, Warren briefly addressed what role gender might have played in the race and promised she’ll "have a lot more to say on that subject.”
“If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner,’ and if you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think: ‘What planet do you live on?' " she said.
Monica D’Antonio, a Democrat who lives in West Norriton, said she guessed some voters felt a man might be better suited to stand up to Trump in a head-to-head, never mind that some of the most headline-grabbing debate moments were from Warren and Klobuchar. She also defended supporting female candidates with the same or better qualifications as the male candidates.
“We’re 51% of the population,” D’Antonio said, “and I’m sort of tired of hearing people say, ‘Oh, you’re just voting for her because she’s a woman,’ as if it’s not important to represent 51% of the population.”
D’Antonio, 39, who sits on the board of the Norristown Area School District, said she isn’t certain whom she’ll vote for in Pennsylvania’s April 28 primary but plans to support whichever Democrat takes on Trump.
She also hopes Sanders and Biden “wise up and pick a woman running mate.”
Both men have been tight-lipped about whom they might select to run alongside them, but among the oddsmakers and the pundit class, women and people of color top the lists. Several of the names bubbling up are women who themselves ran for president, including Warren, Klobuchar, and Sen. Kamala Harris, as well as former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
“Maybe if Biden is the nominee and he chooses a woman to be the vice president, I think that’s more of an evolution,” said Kathy Harrington, 58, of Coopersburg and the first vice chair of the Lehigh County Democratic Committee. “Then people get used to a woman in the upper echelons of power.”
Beth Finn, who campaigned for Warren for months and hoped to represent her as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention, said there must be a woman on the ticket alongside whichever Democrat wins the nomination “for the sake of the country.”
Finn, 43, who lives in Philadelphia’s Washington Square West section and last year lost a City Council bid, said she hopes women continue to run for president, because “every crack we put in the glass ceiling gets us closer.”
Finn hasn’t decided whom she’s going to vote for in the primary and is waiting to see what Warren and her campaign say. During the emotional news conference Thursday, Warren declined to endorse Biden or Sanders. She said the field narrowing to two men was "one of the hardest parts” about dropping out.
“And all those little girls," she said through tears, "are gonna have to wait four more years.”