She has all the assets that are ambrosia to the Democratic base. She’s a woman of color, a mother of two, one of the engines behind Virginia’s key vote on the Equal Rights Amendment; she’s smart, with an electric presence; she’s a lawyer who wasn’t a prosecutor; and she’s a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, for that little dash of ferocity every Democratic candidate craves.
You’d think she was a sure bet.
Or what about state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (Richmond), a corporate lawyer (that ferocity) who has served in the state legislature for years? She’s a woman of color and a liberal. She came in third in the primary.
But instead, Virginia Democrats overwhelmingly gave the underwhelming former governor Terry McAuliffe the ticket to ride.
And that feels like backsliding. And a disconnect.
Because when even liberal voters refuse to be liberal, folks who have already been in power create a logjam with their refusal to step aside for the next generation.
It’s exactly what happened when President Biden set a record as the oldest person who took the oath of office at 78.
When they’re asked by pollsters, Americans are all for women in leadership. Heck, nearly everyone — 93 percent — asked in last year’s Gallup poll about the subject said they think a woman could be president within a decade.
But it was a different story once they got to that voting machine in the presidential primaries, knocking off fantastically qualified and intriguing female candidates state after state, going instead with the sure bet — Biden.
I watched it happen with the most radical women around, lefties who were fist-raising and ERAing all year long, only to give their vote to Amtrak Joe in the end.
“Joe, Joe, Joe is my man,” said one of my friends, a bisexual, vegetarian, radical feminist lawyer. “He’s the one who can win.”
Of course she wants women in leadership. But voting is a game of electability now that former president Donald Trump’s term has shown us how bad it can get.
That dynamic is spreading across state elections, as we saw in Virginia.
The Republican candidate for Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin, is a multimillionaire with Trumptilian tendencies. And any whiff of Trump calcifies Democrats in their voting habits.
McAuliffe owes his second act in Virginia politics to Trump. And he knows it.
“Glenn Youngkin, literally, folks, has one policy, one — an election integrity plan based on Donald Trump’s conspiracy theory about the 2020 election,” he said, after winning the nomination.
And that’s what scared voters away from candidates they liked better.
Vickie Stangl, a self-described feminist and longtime professor of women’s history, told my colleagues that she also considered voting for Carroll Foy but worried that she might not be able to beat Youngkin, whom she associates with Trump. She broke her tradition and went with McAuliffe.
“I wanted to go with the sure bet,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m saying that.”
She’s being strategic.
And one scholar argues that even if it’s strategic, it can still have the result of discrimination, and it’s hurting America’s political system.
“Strategic discrimination occurs when an individual hesitates to support a candidate out of concern that others will object to the candidate’s identity,” wrote Regina Bateson, a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa.
It means we have so little faith in our neighbors that we think it’s safer voting according to their biases, rather than our choices.
And when diversity does happen, it’s a fragile diversity that feels safe for White voters.
Our nation finally made huge history with Vice President Harris, the first woman and first Black and Asian American in that office.
Democratic voters mostly loooooved her as No. 2.
Just not No. 1.
But candidates know they need women, especially women of color. Women make up America’s largest voting bloc. But we’re also all over the place. More than 50 percent of my White sisters voted for Trump last year (sorry again), but Black women delivered it all to the Democrats last year, with 91 percent of their vote going to Biden and Harris.
Same thing happened in the Virginia primary, when Democrats opted to take another serving of vanilla with vanilla on top and a side of vanilla with McAuliffe.
But just to prove they’re not all about the sure bet White males, the commonwealth is guaranteed to make history with the lieutenant governor’s election.
The Republican candidate is the dynamic Winsome E. Sears, a Black woman and former delegate. She poses in her campaign ad with an assault weapon and is an ardent Trump supporter.
But at least Virginia Democrats won’t have to take refuge from her in the arms of a White man.
Del. Hala S. Ayala (Prince William) won the Democratic primary over five rivals.
Ayala is an Afro-Latina, Lebanese and Irish woman, a mother of two, a former cybersecurity expert with the U.S. Coast Guard, and a strong supporter of public education during her time in the Virginia House of Delegates.
She’s exactly the kind of candidate Democrats said they want.
But only as a No. 2.
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