But what about two women on the ticket?
In this campaign cycle, some people are questioning whether a woman can win the nomination, let alone whether there can be two women on the ticket.
Much is made of the importance of striking the right balance when putting together a presidential ticket. Candidates and their strategists take into account generational, geographical or ideological differences that might appeal to various segments of the electorate.
Gender has not generally been a part of the equation.
Women have appeared on major-party presidential tickets just three times in the nation’s history: Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York became the first when Democratic nominee Walter Mondale tapped her as his running mate in 1984. She held that distinction for 24 years, until Republican nominee John McCain made former Alaska governor Sarah Palin his vice presidential pick. In 2016, Hillary Clinton made history as the first woman to lead a major party’s presidential ticket.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is the only woman polling at or near the top of the 18-person Democratic field, but the contest is far from settled. For the fifth Democratic debate held Wednesday in Atlanta, Warren was joined onstage by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii). Marianne Williamson, a self-help author and speaker, did not qualify for the debate, but has not dropped out of the race. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) ended her campaign for the nomination in August.
Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrat whose profile has risen on the national stage with her strong performance in last year’s race for governor, has said she would be “honored” to be considered for vice president by the eventual nominee.
Harris and Warren have said that if they won the nomination, they would be open to choosing a female running mate. In 2016, Clinton considered making Warren her running mate, but in the end she chose Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.
Joel K. Goldstein, a professor of law at Saint Louis University's School of Law, said an all-female presidential ticket is inevitable.
“At some point, we’re going to have a ticket of two women. The question is: Is that going to happen in 2020?” said Goldstein, who studies the vice presidency.
He noted that until Obama made history by winning the Democratic nomination in 2008, no person of color had been part of a presidential ticket.
This year’s Democratic presidential primary also has attracted several candidates of color, including Gabbard and Harris, along with Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.); Julián Castro, former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Andrew Yang, a tech entrepreneur.
Racial and ethnic diversity also will likely be considered in the composition of the ticket, Goldstein said.
“The question would be: If Sen. Booker or Sen. Harris got the nomination, would this be the year that we would have a Democratic ticket without a white person?” Goldstein said. “I could be wrong, but it strikes me that, for a presidential candidate who is a woman, there will be a lot of pressure to pick a man, and for a person of color, there will be a lot of pressure to pick a white person. But at some point, that’s going to change.”
Pete Buttigieg, the two-term mayor of South Bend, Ind., who has attracted attention on the debate stage and on the campaign trail, is openly gay.
Democratic leaders and activists are engaged in a tug of war over the party’s identity. There are ideological tensions, referenced by former president Barack Obama, who warned last week that some factions are pushing the party too far to the left. There are tactical differences, with some activists arguing that the party needs to win back disaffected white voters who backed Trump in 2016, and others are arguing that leaders need to reward the loyalty of women and people of color, particularly black women, who consistently turn out for Democratic candidates.
Democratic leaders and activists also say defeating President Trump next year is their top priority. That has led to angst on the part of some over what kind of nominee would be best: someone who will be most attractive to moderate whites or someone who will excite liberals, women, people of color and young voters.
For some voters, the best candidate to take on Trump is a white man. Former vice president Joe Biden, who served under Obama, has touted himself as the person who can win back whites who defected to Trump, and he also boasts strong support among black voters. Buttigieg, who has captured media attention and in a recent poll appears to be surging in Iowa, the first contest of the primary, also is pitching himself as the candidate to win back the heartland.
The female candidates have expressed frustration that the news media and some voters continue to ask whether they could beat Trump. Harris has challenged voters on the issue at forums and in media interviews. Klobuchar, in an interview before the debate, questioned whether she and her sister presidential candidates would even be on the debate stage if they had as little political experience as Buttigieg. In the interview, and when she was asked about her comments during Wednesday’s debate, she wondered whether female politicians were held to “a different standard.”
Kelly Dittmar, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University at Camden, said that during more than 200 years of all-male presidential tickets in almost every election, “never before was there a question that it was problematic and didn’t represent half the population.”
“This time, on the Democratic side, people are saying it can’t possibly be an all-male ticket. It’s the first time in history that people are saying it’s the all-male ticket that’s not viable,” she said.
Dittmar, who is also a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, said that based on how female candidates performed in the 2018 midterms, there was little evidence to suggest that women are less likely to win. She said Democratic women made up the majority of candidates who flipped House seats and gubernatorial seats.
That’s not to say that their gender was the reason that women did so well in the 2018 elections, “but you can say that gender was not a liability in the least, so the concerns about electability are overstated because they are not based [on] evidence of what we’ve seen in recent elections. Add to that, a woman won the popular vote for president in 2016.”
Beth Myers, who oversaw the vice president selection process for Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, said she didn’t think the notion of an all-female president ticket was at all out of the question.
Candidates don’t always follow the rule of balancing contrasting qualities. She said some candidates take the “double-down approach,” as Bill Clinton did in 1992 when he chose Al Gore for his running mate. “Someone might have said to Bill Clinton, ‘Oh, you should pick an old-school Democrat,’ and he decided to pick another young, energetic Southern vice president,” Myers said.
She doesn’t think voters would balk at an all-female ticket. “I give the American voters more credit than that. I think two women would be okay. Obviously, it would be different, but it would be okay,” she said.
Myers, who runs her own consulting firm, said that earlier this week, she participated in an exercise at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School in which participants took part in a crisis simulation of a national security risk. The role-playing exercise involved participants acting as members of the National Security Council meeting in the situation room. Women played the roles of the president and vice president, Myers said.
There was a moment of titters and joking, Myers said, and the men around the table had to get used to saying “her and her, she and she.” But then everyone got serious and went to work.
“It was fun to do that, but it wasn’t like it was wild and crazy,” she said. “It was simply a fact.”