When T.L. Duryea is unsure how to proceed, in politics or in life, she asks herself a question:
“What would Hillary Clinton want me to do?”
It’s been especially useful this year, as Duryea has been trying to make up her mind about 2020. After wearing a white pantsuit to the polls and spending election night alongside thousands of other Clinton fans at the Javits Center, it isn’t easy to choose a new champion. But, as usual, Duryea, a 47-year-old artist from Darien, Conn., found the answer in Clinton.
“In my heart, I think Hillary wants Kamala Harris to win,” said Duryea.
So Duryea wants Harris, the senator from California, to win, too.
In the lead-up to 2020, it’s been easy to spot many of the most die-hard voters from 2016. President Trump’s base is shouting “Send her back” at blockbuster campaign rallies; the “Bernie Bros” have maintained a top-three position for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) since he entered the race.
The allegiances of Hillary Clinton’s die-hard supporters are far less clear. While some expect them to dutifully enlist with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — another approximately 70-year-old white woman who loves talking policy — many devoted Clinton supporters likely have other plans, said Jennifer Lawless, a professor of women in politics at the University of Virginia. Clinton’s most loyal coalition, Lawless said, is still up for grabs.
It’s a formidable group. Clinton forged a “special” personal and emotional bond with her most loyal supporters, said Jonathan Allen, co-author of “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign” and a forthcoming book on 2020. If a primary candidate is able to connect with Clinton’s base — even just enough to win their votes — it could have a powerful impact on the campaign. Many are still connected through Pantsuit Nation, a secret Facebook group with over 3 million members, created as a space where people could freely express their support for Clinton — and her pantsuits — without judgment.
This group of women — and they are overwhelmingly women, Allen said — have been following Clinton since she became first lady in the early ’90s, seeing elements of her life in their own. They’re mostly middle-aged or older. Many were the first women in their cohort to go to college, or get graduate degrees, or work outside the home while raising families, he said. After watching the sexist tactics deployed against Clinton in 2008, and again in 2016, he said, they feel like “they’ve been through a lot of wars with her.”
“I spent my entire life watching this woman be subjected to things we never subject men to — and she just kept rising above and rising above and rising above,” said Duryea.
Jennifer Morales-Recksit, also 48, spent Election Day in 2016 alone on a street corner in a pantsuit, holding a sign that said “Hillary for President. “I just always felt very connected to her,” said Morales-Recksit, who owns a pizza shop in Palm Beach, Fla. “She took all that abuse for us.”
But in 2020, Morales-Recksit isn’t looking for a candidate who makes her feel the way Clinton did.
“I don’t know that we need to have that kind of emotional connection to get invested,” she said.
Duryea isn’t looking for another personal hero, either. “Maybe it’s actually better not to get to that emotional level,” she said.
Duryea’s priorities are different now. Many Democrats want to pick the nominee with the best chance of beating Trump. But Clinton loyalists are especially likely to put electability above all else, said Lawless.
“For them, the most important thing is getting rid of Trump,” she said. “That’s in part because of how they felt about Hillary — and how hard she worked, and how Trump tried to completely diminish her.” It doesn’t help that he continues to tweet about Clinton, years after the election, she said.
While Clinton’s most devoted supporters used to be fierce advocates for electing the first female president, Lawless suspects that has changed. “The idea that ‘Oh gosh, now is the time to elect a woman’ almost seems quaint.” This time around, she said, “the importance of electing a female president is not at the forefront of people’s minds.”
Anna Sarno Cattie, a stay-at-home mom and fervent Clinton supporter based in Quakertown, Pa., will be voting for former vice president Joe Biden in the primary. She cried when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, and got emotional when Hillary Clinton clinched the nomination in 2016. Those candidacies felt historic, she said. But her support for Biden is based on something different.
“This isn’t about what’s historic. This isn’t about emotions. I’m basing who I’m supporting on who can beat Trump,” Cattie said. It’s not that she doesn’t think a woman can win. But the stakes are unthinkably high and it’s risky, she said, adding that Trump is just an “enigma.”
“I look at Biden and I think he can get this done.”
Both Duryea and Morales-Recksit plan to vote for Harris. While Duryea was initially resistant to supporting a female candidate, resigned to believing that the person able to beat Trump was “probably a white man,” Harris won her over when she questioned then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over allegations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford.
But Harris is trailing Biden, Sanders and Warren, polling around 5 percent. While Harris was initially well positioned to inherit Clinton’s most fervent supporters, Allen said, her campaign has been less impressive than Clinton supporters and former Clinton aides had hoped. And especially after 2016, Clinton voters want to back a winner.
It’s not easy for many Clinton supporters to get behind Warren in the primary. Duryea can’t forget that 2004 video that circulated online during the 2016 primary, when Warren criticized Clinton for her Wall Street connections. It’s also hard, she said, to forgive Warren for taking so long to publicly support Clinton in 2016.
“If you actually believe in sisterhood, which I do, you know that women need early support. But Warren waited. She did the politically advantageous thing,” Duryea said. The only similarity she sees between Clinton and Warren, she says, is their hair color, their age and their gender. (If Warren turns out to be the nominee, Duryea says, she will, “of course,” support her. “Women supporting women is everything,” she says.)
Clinton’s politics are far closer to Biden’s than Warren’s, said Cattie. Especially living in Bucks County, the suburbs of Philadelphia, surrounded by people who voted for Trump in 2016, she wants to support another centrist.
Whatever else happens in the primary, many Clinton loyalists just hope they don’t wind up with Sanders. The wounds from 2016 are still raw, Allen says. Many Clinton supporters blame Sanders for Clinton’s loss: for calling her “corrupt” after it was clear she was going to win, for staying in the race too long, for not doing enough to persuade his “bros” to support her.
If it came to Sanders or Trump, every Clinton supporter interviewed said that — of course, of course — they’d punch their ballot for Sanders. But Allen isn’t so sure.
“It would be one of Bernie’s biggest hurdles to winning the presidency,” said Allen. “There are die-hard Clinton loyalists, and not a few of them … if they prefer Sanders to Trump, it’s so marginal that they might not be inclined to go to the polls.”
As a Clinton supporter, it doesn’t feel good to be taken for granted, Duryea said.
“The media talks about the Trump voter, the Bernie voter. But everyone just assumes that the Hillary voter is going to do the right thing,” she said. “She’s going to vote for the Democrat.”
Now that’s probably true, Duryea said. But she’d still like someone to ask.