This article has been updated to reflect that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) has qualified for the November debate.
In 1872, Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to run for president. The stockbroker and newspaper publisher ran on a campaign that espoused societal and sexual liberation for women, even though white women wouldn’t achieve the right to vote for another 50 years. For women of color, the fight to exercise that right would stretch on for decades.
A century after the 19th Amendment was ratified, and four years after Hillary Clinton became the first major-party female nominee, a woman could be elected president. A historic number of women are still candidates in the 2020 Democratic primary: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) and author Marianne Williamson.
Given that women showed up in record numbers to elect a historic number of female candidates in the 2018 midterms, they’ll prove crucial in 2020, too. What’s more, with issues such as abortion likely headed to the Supreme Court, women may be especially motivated to go to the polls, says Karen O’Connor, a professor of political science and founder of American University’s Women and Politics institute.
For now, the Democratic field remains fluid. Much will happen in the next 12 months, between Election Day 2019 and Election Day 2020, to determine which candidate will eventually face President Trump in the general election. Accordingly, we’ve pulled together the most important events in the coming year.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.)
Warren — whose liberal policies, including a Medicare-for-all plan and eliminating student debt, are the hallmark of her campaign — is a clear front-runner in the race. The latest poll asked Democrat-leaning registered voters who they would support if their state’s primary or caucus were held today. Former vice president Joe Biden ranked first at 28 percent, but Warren followed closely at 23 percent — a deficit that is smaller than the poll’s margin of sampling error. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) followed behind Warren with 17 percent of support. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, at 7 percent support, was the only other candidate with greater than 2 percent.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.)
Harris, who attended a historically black college, has positioned herself as a history-making candidate. A former attorney general of California, she’s polling at 2 percent.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.)
Klobuchar has made her pitch as a Midwestern candidate with broad appeal; combating the opioid crisis is one of the pillars of her campaign. She’s polling at 1 percent.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii)
Gabbard is a veteran of the Iraq War whose main push is opposing military intervention overseas. At 38, Gabbard is also one of the youngest candidates in the race. She’s polling at 2 percent.
Author Marianne Williamson
Williamson is a self-help author and motivational speaker who boasts a large online following. She’s polling at less than 1 percent.
The Iowa Democratic Party dinner
One of the flash points in the Democratic primary came over the weekend, at the Iowa Democratic Party’s fall fundraising dinner. As Karen Tumulty, a Washington Post political columnist, writes, Iowa’s Liberty and Justice Celebration “marks the moment when the race turns into its final stretch before voting actually begins” — an important event because Iowa is the first state to head to the primary polls. In 2007, former president Barack Obama, then a senator from Illinois, gave a rousing speech that ultimately changed the tide for his 2008 campaign.
At this year’s dinner, Warren and Buttigieg took clear aim at each other. Buttigieg, who spoke first, made his case for attracting moderate and swing voters in a general election, while Warren said that “fear and complacency does not win elections.”
The Iowa Democratic Party dinner also saw former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke drop out of the race — a sign that the field has begun to winnow.
Quarterly fundraising filings
“[Fundraising filings] are always interesting to look at, not only in terms of who’s ahead in the money race, but who donors are giving to,” says Betsy Fischer Martin, executive director of American University’s Women and Politics institute. “From a gender perspective, it’s also interesting to see how women are getting more engaged in the political process, and are we seeing that in the dollar amounts they’re giving to candidates and who they’re giving to.”
Rachael Cobb, chair of Suffolk University’s government department, says that money will be a big factor in weeding out candidates in the coming months. “The big thing right now is that if they have the money, they’ll be able to stay in,” she says. “If they don’t have the money, they won’t.” For the upcoming November debate, co-hosted by MSNBC and The Post, candidates must earn donations from at least 165,000 unique donors.
Candidates’ year-end filings are due Jan. 31, 2020.
This year’s remaining primary debates
The remaining debates in 2019, slotted for Nov. 20 in Atlanta and Dec. 19 in Los Angeles, will continue to be opportunities to shrink the field. In 2020, there will be six more primary debates. Those will be particularly important ahead of the early-voting caucuses and primaries, says Fischer Martin.
February 2020: The Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries
Feb. 3: The Iowa caucuses
The Iowa caucuses are the first-ever votes cast in the primary, making them crucial in terms of generating momentum and drawing media attention. Given Warren’s extensive ground operation in the state, it would be “surprising” if she doesn’t come out on top, according to O’Connor. This also may be an opportunity for Klobuchar to make it to the top four among Midwestern voters. If Klobuchar doesn’t, says O’Connor, “she could be done.”
Feb. 11: New Hampshire primary
The primary in New Hampshire, another important early-voting state, falls next. After this primary — coupled with the Nevada Democratic caucuses (Feb. 22) and the South Carolina primary (Feb. 29) — “we’re going to have a pretty good idea whether there’s going to be a woman on the ticket,” says O’Connor.
Feb. 29: South Carolina primary
South Carolina’s primary has long been an indication of black voters’ favored candidate — a voting bloc crucial to any Democratic candidate’s coalition, says Cobb. This vote will be particularly important for Harris: The senator is tapping into networks of black women in the state, so if she doesn’t come out in the top three or four in South Carolina, that could spell the end of her campaign.
March 2020: Super Tuesday
Super Tuesday, which lands on March 3, is always an important harbinger for candidates. More than a dozen states, accounting for about 40 percent of total delegate allocation, will hold their primaries. That includes solidly blue and red states, such as Vermont and Alabama, respectively, as well as purple ones, such as Virginia.
A big change this year is that California — the state with the greatest number of Democratic National Convention delegates — will vote on Super Tuesday, as opposed to later on in the primaries, as it has done in the past. (In 2016, Californians cast their primary ballots in June.) This “will give us the best look at how the actual electorate will break down,” according to O’Connor.
July 2020: Democratic National Convention
This year, the Democratic National Convention will run July 13 to 16 in Milwaukee. The convention will be significant if “we’re down to not knowing the nominee yet,” says Fischer Martin. Although two-thirds of the delegates will have been allocated by the end of March, if the ballot is still contested, superdelegates — delegates who are not required to pledge their support to any presidential candidate beforehand — could decide the nominee at the convention.
September 2020: General election presidential debates begin
Sept. 29 marks the first general election debate of 2020. “If we do have a woman nominee, I think you can expect the general election debates to be significant,” says Fischer Martin. “I think we saw that certainly play out when we had Hillary Clinton versus Trump and the debates were must-see TV for everybody.”
The difference between Clinton and this year’s female candidates, O’Connor says, is that we’re already seeing less media fixation on the female candidates’ appearance:
Two additional presidential debates are slotted for Oct. 15 and 22, with a vice presidential debate on Oct. 7.
Nov. 4, 2020: The general election
Last week, for only the third time in history, the House of Representatives voted to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into whether Trump pressured a foreign government to investigate a political rival. The country will likely face a novel political situation in 2020, given that all former presidents facing impeachment were in their second terms. However, experts are still unsure of how impeachment will play into the general election.
“The question is whether it will have any sway on a base that is fervent for Trump and Trumpism,” Cobb says. “If it has inroads into that, then it could have a substantial impact. If it doesn’t, then it is just one of the many other stories of this election that will have an impact on voter behavior.”
With so much up in the air, it’s difficult to predict all that will happen in the coming year. That’s also one of Fischer Martin’s favorite things about watching U.S. elections play out: