There’s been complaining on social media and in the press that the women running for president aren’t getting their fair share of news coverage. I know I’m about to get slammed for mansplaining but I don’t think it’s bias—or at least not most of it. We’ve got 19 declared candidates for president. Four of the most prominent are women. In a field that large, a lot of people are going to get their moment in the sun and anybody who’s going to get major coverage needs to earn it.
Pete Buttigieg burst on the scene and quickly went from obscurity to second tier candidate with a healthy first quarter haul. A Vanity Fair article wrote “People are thrilled Pete Buttigieg speaks Norwegian, but the fact that Kirsten Gillibrand speaks Mandarin is barely a blip in the news.” The author missed the point. That Buttigieg speaks Norwegian is just part of a larger story that less about his biography and more about what he says. He went on unscripted spree talking about the damage supply-side economics has done to the country, not how he supports a Green New Deal. He told us that capitalism has been an overwhelming force for good that needs to be tweaked to spread more of the wealth instead of offering democratic socialism as the cure for all of our ills. He said smart, insightful things that other candidates aren’t saying AND he has story that’s interesting.
Gillibrand, for her part, needs to figure what she believes. She’s suffering from trying to be all things to all people. She was blue dog when she represented a Congressional district in Upstate New York and she’s been an unabashed liberal since she was elected to the Senate, representing New York City. She’s better known for forcing Al Franken from the Senate than any legislative achievements. She could certainly recover but she’s got work to do.
Beto! is another male candidate dominating the news. He rode a Texas US Senate contest into presidential contest and brought a stunning low-dollar haul with him. With his skateboard riding entrances and his days a punk rocker, he’s struck a chord with younger people and took that enthusiasm on a barnstorming tour of college campuses from Texas to New Hampshire. He played to an emerging base and got credit for it.
The other man who’s been grabbing attention besides Bernie, who has a built-in following of dogma-loving ideologues, is not even a candidate. Joe Biden is yet to announce, but has appeared to be on the verge of jumping in for months. He’s gotten so much press because if he does enter the race, he starts as a clear frontrunner, if for no other reason than name recognition. But not all of the press he’s garnered in recent weeks has been positive.
Elizabeth Warren has tried to build a campaign by rolling out progressive policy proposals. For better or worse, nobody ever got elected President of the United States because of policy proposals. Instead of making herself interesting to voters, she’s just reinforcing her wonky image, which may be good for both the Senate and country, but it’s not a great way to get attention in a crowded field of candidates. I suspect people would much rather hear about the forces that made her become a Democrat after years of being a Republican than her next policy prescription.
That leaves Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris. Klobuchar got seriously wounded by reports of mistreating her staff. She botched the response, trying to make it sign of toughness instead of ever acknowledging that humiliating employees is not acceptable in any workplace. She has a point that a man might not have received the same criticism but she needed to address the problem better than she did. Still, she’s hanging around and might get another shot the spotlight.
Until very recently, I would have bet that Kamala Harris is the eventual nominee. She should be the most interesting candidate in the field. She brings an impressive resume and personal history that reflects who the Democratic Party is today. Her parents were both immigrants who came to the US through academia. Her mother was Indian and her father Jamaican. She got probably the best coverage of any presidential launch this year but she failed to hold the spotlight. Instead to saying much interesting she latched onto the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, slogans that might appeal a segment of the Democratic base but are boring positions overall. Again, nobody ever won the presidency because of their positions.
All of that said, I want to vote for a woman for president for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is just the pleasure of watching Trump get beat by a girl. I also believe a woman could be the best candidate to run against Trump, but the ones running right now need to step up their game.
Here’s a suggestion. Drop your consultants and quit reading polls. Buttigieg got the attention he did because of what he said and it didn’t sound poll tested and focused grouped. Tell us what you think and how you came to believe it. Let us know how you plan to beat Donald Trump. Worry less about offending people and more about connecting with them. Do something interesting. Instead of holding orchestrated and choreographed meetings, try spontaneous or unconventional events. Quit thinking in terms of coalitions and interest groups. And drop the policy proposals. There will plenty of time for that later.
At this early stage in the campaign, the voters want to know more about who you are than what position you’ll take. They’ll forgive you for disagreeing with them on policy if they like and trust you. You may need to run a more conventional campaign later but right now, you need to connect with voters and break out of a crowd of 19. Show us a low-dollar fundraising haul from enthusiastic women that matches Beto! and rivals Bernie.
Grab the attention of the media. Don’t wait for it to come to you.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >