BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — An historic number of women were among the 20 Democratic presidential candidates who appeared on stage for debates in Detroit last month.
Six women are running for president in the 2020 election, and never before have there been so many women in the race.
Those running include Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and self-help author Marianne Williamson.
When you have multiple women on the debate stage, “What changes… is that women don’t have to be the sole representative of their gender,” Amanda Hunter, the Research and Communication Director at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, said.
The Foundation is a partner of Gender on the Ballot, a nonpartisan project that is working to “examine and contextualize gender dynamics in the 2020 election cycle,” according to their website.
WBZ NewsRadio’s Laurie Kirby spoke with Hunter before the second night of the debates. The two discussed the women currently running for president, the challenges they face, and the tactics they use on stage.
Likability and electability
Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Hunter said one focus of the research the Foundation conducted with the Gender on the Ballot project was the concept of electability.
“It’s important to remember that the four sitting women senators running for president have proven that they can win a statewide election when a number of men that are running have not won statewide races. And yet, it seems like over and over the women’s electability seems to be questioned more,” Hunter said. “So, we wanted to delve into it and see what voters actually think make someone electable.”
Female candidates are often faced with the question of whether they’re “likable enough” to be elected. That’s one challenge Sen. Warren has seen, according to Hunter.
“Likability, in terms of Sen. Warren, has been often kind of used in a sexist way. And we saw that especially at the beginning of the campaign,” Hunter said.
A poll released in February by the University of New Hampshire revealed that only 3 percent of those surveyed believed Warren to be the most likable candidate. However, 31 percent said former Vice President Joe Biden was the most likable and 19 percent said they didn’t know or were undecided.
Going negative against opponents
Sen. Kamala Harris. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
According to Hunter, it is a bigger risk for women candidates to take a negative tack against their opponents.
“Voters expect women to stay above the fray in politics,” Hunter said. “Sen. Harris treaded a fine line when she was contrasting with Joe Biden.”
In a June debate, Harris criticized former Vice President Joe Biden’s opposition to school-busing programs in the 1970s and 1980s.
“What we saw Sen. Harris do last time… is to share part of her personal journey. What we call being a 360 degree candidate — showing voters who they are as human beings and the perspective they’ll bring the campaign. And that tends to do really well with voters because it shows authenticity,” Hunter said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images)
Hunter said that Sen. Klobuchar was another candidate who chose to walk that fine line between showing strength and skewing negative in the debates.
“[Klobuchar] also highlighted her accomplishments, which is important because men are assumed to be qualified and women have to prove they’re qualified over and over,” Hunter said.
Despite not being an elected official, Hunter believes author Marianne Williamson made a tactical move by making it a point to discuss her accomplishments.
“We know that’s important because women have to show while men can tell. So, every time you see a woman candidate bringing up something she’s accomplished, or a previous position she’s held, that’s very intentional,” Hunter said.
Listen to the full conversation between WBZ NewsRadio's Laurie Kirby (@LaurieWBZ) and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation's Amanda Hunter: