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Devorah Badee would like to see Sen. Kamala Harris become the next President. She believes a woman is simply better trained than a man to handle the pressures of being in the White House.
“We’ve always been known to be very ambidextrous, okay? We do it all,” Badee, a 64-year-old African-American from Michigan, recently told CNN. With a chuckle, she added: “We raise children, we take care of a home and we work a job, and I don’t know too many men that do all of those things.”
But she’s leaning toward supporting former Vice President Joe Biden – for now.
With the Iowa caucuses still nine months away, the Democratic field of presidential candidates has ballooned to more than 20 hopefuls. Six of them are women – a mix of senators, a congresswoman and a spiritual author. But none have led the national polls; that distinction has consistently and unambiguously gone to Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
In recent interviews with CNN, the Democratic voters who say they hope to see a woman elected president next year but are inclined, nonetheless, to support Biden at this early stage in the campaign – or, at the very least, don’t feel ready to fully commit to even their favorite female candidates – shared a range of reasons. Some said they simply knew more about the men at the top of the polls than the women, while numerous Biden supporters said his relationship with former President Barack Obama and what they see as his unique ability to take on President Donald Trump were invaluable.
But others still described a kind of lingering trauma dating back to Clinton’s loss to Trump in 2016 – a fear that at least a part of that defeat confirmed that too many Americans reject the notion of a woman in the White House.
It’s an often-repeated sentiment from women: I can’t go through that again.
Like Badee, Theresa Jones of Columbia, South Carolina, also supported Clinton in 2016 and argues it’s “about time” that a woman is elected President.
Another Democrat from the area, Chavonna Starlings, says she, too, feels that “it would be great to have a woman president.” Having supported Clinton in the last election, the 29-year-old says she is particularly interested in a candidate who can help poor and minority communities.
Both Jones and Starlings also have Biden as their top choice for the time being.
“I think most people didn’t vote for her because she was a woman,” Jones said about Clinton. “And I think that they ended voting for Trump because he was a man, if you want to know the truth, and I think that kind of hurt us in the end.”
Julie Swytert, a South Carolina native, is undecided as she gets to know the long list of Democratic candidates. But already, she is worried about the way that the media is covering the 2020 race and how gender biases will sway fellow voters.
“I’m hearing all this good stuff about the men and these women that are so strong are kind of getting ignored and I feel like that is part of the press’ fault,” Swytert said. “I worry about the old boys club. And I think that that’s going to play a big part in who women and men vote for.”
At a Biden event last week in Des Moines, Iowa, Kelly Grief, a 22-year-old woman from the area who works in agriculture science, said it was “time” for women to be more equally represented in government and that it was very important to her to see a woman on the ticket in 2020.
“We make up, I think, 51% of the population,” said Grief, who said she supported Clinton in 2016 and was excited about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign. But Grief sounded less certain when asked if any of the women running could win next year.
“I think they’re going to face lots of challenges being a woman,” Grief said. “There’s a lot of stereotypes that they’re going to have to overcome. But some time it’s going to happen and hopefully it’s this time.”
A recent CNN poll appeared to offer an early sign that male and female voters, so far, are showing similar preferences. In other words, there was no indication that women were overwhelmingly backing the female candidates over their male counterparts.
That’s in contrast to what ultimately happened in the 2016 Democratic contest, when Clinton’s win over Sanders was in part powered by outsized female support.
As Democratic voters survey the current field of presidential candidates and fret over stopping a second Trump term, the female candidates are busy fielding questions about Clinton’s loss, lessons from 2016 and how they plan to outperform the men.
At a CNN town hall last month, a Harvard student asked Warren about the concern of getting “Hillary’d” in 2020.
“You get held to a higher standard than your opponent for potentially arbitrary or maybe even sexist reasons,” she said, wanting to know how Warren would navigate around sexist attacks.
Warren responded by pointing back to her first Senate race in 2012.
“People said to me, ‘You’re going to lose because Massachusetts in 2011, according to conventional wisdom, was not ready to have a woman senator or governor.’ Now, you can imagine how I heard that. I heard that as: ‘Get in this race, right now.’ Which is what I did,” she said. “So I jumped in the race and sure enough, you know, the early coverage is about what I’m wearing. It’s about my hair. It’s about my voice. It’s about whether or not I smile enough. I didn’t.”
Earlier in the year at another CNN town hall, one mother of three asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar to lay out her plan to “break through the systematic, anti-feminist comments or attacks,” and what she described was a higher bar set for the female candidates than their male counterparts.
Klobuchar conceded that women running for office are without a doubt held to a different standard.
“Someone once said – and I agree with part of this but not all of it – that women candidates should speak softly and carry a big statistic. So I think you know I don’t always speak softly. That’s been established,” the Minnesotan said. “But I think what you find in a lot of these women is they’ve had to prove themselves in different ways. They have to carry a big statistic, which means be accountable and show what they’re doing.”
Perhaps the most forceful pushback on the notion that only a male nominee could defeat Trump recently came from Harris.
In a two-day swing through Michigan earlier this week, the California senator delivered a speech at an NAACP event, calling the idea that some voters will only vote for certain candidates “wrong” and “short-sighted.” And the next day, to a room full of teachers, Harris talked about the next president, pointedly using the pronoun “her” more than once.
Asked by CNN in a media gaggle afterward how she would reassure women who love her candidacy but believe Biden is better suited to take Trump on, Harris appeared unfazed: I’ve been there before.
“When I ran for my first office, nobody like me had ever done it before. Everyone thought that there was no way it was possible, and I won. Same with the second office I held as Attorney General. Nobody like me had ever done the job before, but I won. So I’m use to that,” she said.
Harris’ message to female voters who worry she can’t win because she’s a woman?
“I thank her for being so supportive and I want her to know that we can win and we will win.”
CNN’s Daniella Diaz, Annie Grayer and Jasmine Wright contributed to this report.