Here they come.
A deluge of potential 2020 presidential candidates is set to make appearances throughout Iowa over the next few weeks. The lead-off caucus state has seen its fair share of White House hopefuls make the rounds here since the 2016 election, but the upcoming gauntlet of the Wing Ding Dinner, the State Fair Soapbox speeches and the coming announcement of September’s Steak Fry guests marks a new phase. August will essentially be the unofficial kick-off of full 2020 caucus campaigning.
But a lot of folks have pointed out in recent days that there’s one thing missing from all the incoming Democrats: women.
Aside from New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan’s visit to Dubuque later in August for a state party fundraiser (an interesting addition to the 2020 scene), all the 2020 speakers at the Wing Ding Dinner and the Soapbox are men. And of the 22 possible presidential contenders who will have visited Iowa by the end of the this month since 2016, only three are women.
That has some worrying that the party isn’t embracing its female base, or that it’s not considering a diverse group of people for the 2020 nomination. But that can’t be simply blamed on “the party.” The planners of each of these major Democratic Party fundraisers and events have been inviting lots of female Democrats, it’s just that it’s mostly men who are coming so far.
But there’s an interesting reason that a specific group of high-profile Democratic women have likely shied away from Iowa campaigning: they just don’t need to yet thanks to their already-strong position within the party.
There are six Democrats typically considered in the top tier of 2020 contenders: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I personally don’t believe that either Biden or Sanders will end up running. That leaves three of the remaining four early “front-runners” (whatever that means at this point) as women.
What we’ve seen consistently in Iowa this cycle is that many of the long-shot and lesser-known 2020 hopefuls have come out early to test the waters, build relationships with activists and generate some buzz. Meanwhile, most of the big-name stars have kept their distance. It seems they figure they can afford to wait until later to fully engage. Gillibrand, Harris and Warren are well-known enough that they perhaps don’t need to be stumping around Iowa a year and a half out.
There’s also a different concern for them. They risk starting up a media circus on their first visit to Iowa that may not dissipate when they get back to D.C. National reporters followed along on Sanders’ two Iowa visits over the past year, just as they would for any of these three women’s visits. For the lesser-known contenders’ trips, Starting Line is sometimes the only journalist present.
Harris currently serves in key, high-profile roles on committees looking into the Russian election interference situation. Warren has a reelection campaign in 2018. Gillibrand has a full slate of legislation she’s trying to push in a divided Senate. Blowing up their 2020 speculation too early could distract from all those causes.
And it’s not like they’re completely avoiding the spotlight. Both Warren and Harris spoke at Netroots Nation last week.
So, they may see an Iowa trip at this point as having more risk than reward. And the reason that that’s the case is because they already hold the upper hand in a potential 2020 primary run.
However, all that being said, I have long argued that being too cautious toward Iowa this cycle could be a mistake. The 2020 Iowa Caucus will be a wild, unpredictable contest with an overcrowded field and unconventional candidates. Just because you fit the traditional mold of an early front-runner (high name I.D., good fundraising connections, unique policy message/biography), doesn’t mean it’ll work this time around.
Building up every small advantage early on in Iowa is the smart way to go. And activists here will remember the national Democrats who came to campaign alongside Fred Hubbell, Cindy Axne, Deidre DeJear and more during the most important election ever for Iowa Democrats.
Regardless, that’s one of the bigger factors in play here.
So, yes, it would certainly be preferable to see more female White House hopefuls popping up in Iowa. And, yes, it’s a little odd to have all-male speaker line-ups at some events. But Democrats should take at least a bit of solace in the fact that part of the reason this is the case is that three strong female candidates are already so well-positioned for the 2020 caucus.
We’ll be seeing them plenty, even if we have to wait a few more months first.
by Pat Rynard