Elizabeth Warren’s answer to the ‘electability’ question? Her record of winning elections

January 15, 2020, 1:30 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The WNBA gets a proposed new contract, Nancy Pelosi starts to move impeachment from the House to the Senate, and Democrats debate whether a woman can win. Have a wonderful Wednesday. 


– Answering The Question. The liveliest moment of the Democratic debate last night hinged on a question that has dogged the party—and the country at large—for years now: Can a woman be elected U.S. president?

The matter came up during the debate in Des Moines after it seemed to sever the otherwise friendly relationship between progressive Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders this week. (“Mom and dad are fighting” is how one left-wing activist characterized the rift.)

For a refresher, the controversy bubbled up when CNN reported that during a private meeting at Warren’s home in 2018, Sanders told Warren that he did not believe a woman could win an election against President Donald Trump. Warren later confirmed the report in a statement: “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.” Sanders, meanwhile, denied it wholeheartedly.

“What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could,” Sanders said. “Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016.”

In The Cut, Rebecca Traister has an interesting theory about the senators’ differing recollections of the meeting; that “what Sanders himself said, in his denial…is not at odds with what Elizabeth Warren may well have heard.” Sanders’ expressed concern about the challenges of a woman running against an incumbent with misogynistic tendencies resonates with plenty of voters. That “lots of people feel this way doesn’t mean it’s true that a woman can’t win,” Traister writes. “But it also doesn’t mean that worrying that it might be true is inherently sexist. And it doesn’t mean that hearing it or some version of this conviction all the time—including from your allies and future competitors—as you gear up to run for president isn’t absolutely maddening…”

Warren’s initial statement to CNN aimed to defuse the conflict. “I have no interest in discussing this private meeting any further because Bernie and I have far more in common than our differences on punditry.”

But she didn’t necessarily shy away from the conflict—and the age-old question—last night, as she seemed to pivot to embrace her role as the leading female candidate.

“Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie. But look, this question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised and it’s time for us to attack it head-on,” she said.

Referring to the four men on stage, Warren added, “Collectively they have lost 10 elections.” She then acknowledged Sen. Amy Klobuchar for a zinger of a line: “The only people on this stage who have won every single election they have been in are the women: Amy and me.”

Underlying reports and commentary about the Warren-Sanders spat is a sort of disbelief that the issue of women’s electability is engulfing the Democrats. This, after Hillary Clinton secured the 2016 nomination and the popular vote and two years after a record number of female candidates—many emboldened by Clinton’s loss to Trump—ran for office and, to Warren’s point, won.

Also… it’s a big day for the Fortune team! This morning, we launched a new site, where you’ll find the best of business all in one place: strategic insights, deep-dive stories, and exclusive access to what executives are thinking. To access all the new content, register for free. Also shiny and new: a gorgeous magazine redesign (subscribe!), a video hub, and a fresh crop of newsletters on the way—Broadsheet readers may be especially interested in, ahem, The Broadside, a monthly bulletin for women looking to take their careers to the next level (sign up to check it out here.)

Claire Zillman

Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe


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