Dick Morris: Did Hillary Clinton Ruin It for All Female Candidates?


The year 2020 was going to be the “year of the woman” in our politics. But then, so was 2016 and 2008.

But the recent polling suggests that female candidates have not taken off but still lag behind the white men: former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders. And, virtually tied with them are other males-in-waiting Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker.

The most recent polling from Fox News on May 17 show Biden in the lead with 35 percent of the vote, Sanders in second at 17 percent, Warren in third with 9 percent, Buttigieg in fourth with 6 percent, Harris in fifth with 5 percent, O’Rourke in sixth with 4 percent, Booker in seventh at 3 percent, Klobuchar in eight at 2 percent and Gillibrand in ninth at 1 percent.

So female candidates are getting a combined total of 17 percent of the vote (plus 1 percent more Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard) — about the same as Sanders is getting on his own and half of Biden’s total.

So why are women running so poorly?

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Part of the reason may be that Hillary Clinton ruined it for everybody. Any history of feminism in America must treat the searing, upset defeats of 2008 and 2016 as historic turning points.

The analogy with Al Smith’s doomed candidacy for president in 1928 comes to mind.

After the New York governor crashed and lost to Herbert Hoover, Democratic bosses from coast to coast questioned out loud if a Catholic could ever be elected president.

In fact, when Sen. John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, ran for the Democratic nomination for vice president in 1956 on the ticket headed by Adlai Stevenson, concern over nominating a Catholic influenced many delegates to vote for Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver — a Protestant — instead.

Much of JFK’s inner circle worried that should he win the nomination and Stevenson fall to Eisenhower in the fall election, his Catholicism would be cited as the reason for the defeat.

Hillary’s defeats in 2008 and 2016 were particularly shocking and may have left a permanent imprint on popular perceptions of a woman’s chance of winning.

In 2008, political observers and players all but conceded the Democratic nomination to Clinton. With no other viable candidates on the horizon, she seemed like a shoo-in.

But then Barack Obama came from out of nowhere and snatched the nomination away in a year-long series of increasingly bitter primaries.

In 2016, Clinton was again the far-out-in-front runner.

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Especially when Trump was selected as the GOP nominee, most people assumed she would win handily.

Now, with Clinton actually winning more votes than Trump, even as she was defeated, the prospects for a woman candidate seemed to burn especially bright.

For those of us who have followed Clinton’s career up close, her defeat is easily attributed to her various scandals — from emails to Benghazi to the Clinton Foundation, etc.

But to many more casual observers, her defeat may seem to be due to the insuperable odds possibly facing any female candidate.

Democratic women are determined to oust Donald Trump and do not want anything to get in the way of their goal.

The seeming difficulty of a woman running for president could be signaling to the Democratic primary voters to opt for the safer choice: White, male, Joe Biden.

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Dick Morris is a former adviser to President Bill Clinton as well as a political author, pollster and consultant. His most recent book, "50 Shades of Politics," was written with his wife, Eileen McGann.