Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, was hit with the “likability” and “electability” meme when she began her presidential race. Now, about eight months later, she’s soared into essentially a second-place tie with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and her likability rating is better than any of her competitors in some polls.
FiveThirtyEight reports: “Democrats’ favorite candidate is not polling leader and former vice ‘resident Joe Biden: It’s Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who sports the highest net favorability rating (+54 percentage points). Indeed, according to The Economist’s 2020 primary tracker, slightly more people are considering voting for Warren than are considering Biden, even though Biden is currently the most popular first choice.”
I’ll hazard a guess that early media coverage was based on the expectation she’d be regarded as too closely resembling Hillary Clinton – over-prepared, lots of plans, liberal, white, blond. Yes, those superficial characteristics were enough to convince some in the punditocracy that she’d be Hillary 2.0. When Warren began to campaign, and voters heard her overall vision (government is working only for the super-rich and super-powerful) and her personal story weaving in anecdotes that ordinary voters can relate to, voters figured out she wasn’t Clinton at all.
This conclusion might seem unbelievably obvious — Warren is a different person, with different experiences and strengths. It was not obvious at all in the “quick take” media coverage in the early days of the campaign.
The fixation on 2016 (the quintessential example of fighting the last war) also, remarkably, ignores elections in 2017 (a sweep of Democrats in Virginia with a record number of female candidates) and 2018 (a record number of women in Congress, many nonwhite). If anything, being a female candidate in 2018, and being a nontraditional female candidate (e.g., a first-time candidate, a Native American, a Latina) seemed to be an advantage insofar as many women voters were interested in turning the tables on Trump, who two years earlier had run a grotesquely bigoted and misogynistic campaign.
Some Democrats’ fetish with finding a white male to win the Upper Midwest and Rust Belt also seems stuck in the mind-set that the voters from these states are all the grumpy old white guys in diners who were interviewed over and over and over again in 2016. (These are the same ones the media go back to interview to conclude that “the base is still with him!”) Sure, these people live in such states, but more women than men vote in presidential elections, many of those states have sizable African American populations that weren’t energized by Clinton, and suburban women (not only in these states but all over the country) seem to be abandoning the GOP.
If one understands that Democrats’ path to 270 means winning suburbs (pumping up their own voters and/or demoralizing Republicans), driving up turnout in cities, focusing on college-educated voters disgusted with Trump and lowering enthusiasm among rural Republican voters who didn’t get what they were promised, the idea of nominating a white man doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.
If you wanted to hazard a guess about electability with 2017 and 2018 in mind, you might put a woman — or two women — on the ticket — to maximize suburban appeal and electrify women and nonwhite voters. Chasing after the old guys in the diners seems misguided, to say the least.