October Debate: What We Saw

Amanda Hunter | Oct 16, 2019


The fourth Democratic debate featured 12 candidates, the largest field we’ve seen on one stage yet, and a record number of women candidates. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard showed the importance of having multiple women with different points on view on stage. The Barbara Lee Family Foundation has studied the obstacles and opportunities women face when running for office for the past 20 years, with a focus on executive office, and here’s what we noticed:

Hammering home qualifications

Research shows that emphasizing qualifications is essential for women candidates, and that it’s not enough for women to point to lines on their resumes: voters want specifics. It is probably no coincidence that the women onstage continually referred to their professional experience much more so than the male candidates.

All of the women on stage last night all elaborated on specific experiences and how that would impact their presidencies: Harris and her experience as a prosecutor; Klobuchar and her experience winning red districts in her state; Gabbard and her experience in the military; and Warren and her experience advocating for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Showcasing their differences

Last night, candidates came ready to show how they differed from each other; particularly, many candidates – including Harris, Klobuchar, and Gabbard –were ready to call out Warren, who has steadily been rising in the polls. Contrasting with opponents is an essential part of campaigning, but can put women candidates at a disadvantage because women pay a higher price when they “go negative.” While how voters react remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that seeing multiple women showcase their different points of view was an exciting moment for gender parity on the campaign trail – and underscored a fact often forgotten: women have a diversity of opinions, too.

Light on “women’s issues”

After no questions from the moderators on “women’s issues” in the last debate, many were hoping that issues like reproductive rights, paid family leave, and sexual harassment would be asked about last night. In fact, when Harris and Senator Cory Booker brought up reproductive rights proactively, moderator Erin Burnett said they would get to that topic later in the night. Although the candidates were asked about reproductive rights (over two hours into the debate), other “women’s issues” were left out.

Normalizing women in executive office

Both Harris and Warren used female pronouns when talking about the actions of a future hypothetical president. For so long, the default has been a man, and changing the pronouns is a small but mighty step to help voters start seeing a woman in the Oval Office.

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