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Democrats have the most diverse field of White House contenders ever. But some voters fear that diversity, especially regarding gender, may not be a winning strategy against President Trump. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben reports.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: At a New Hampshire event for Beto O'Rourke in March, voter Patti Rutka has said she liked O'Rourke because he's smart and charismatic, but she acknowledged she had other reasons, too.
PATTI RUTKA: Honestly, I think that he stands a better chance in part because he is a white male. I'd love to vote for a woman. I'm not sure that any of the women candidates will make it to the top in the way that I think Biden and Beto will.
KURTZLEBEN: Talk to enough Democratic voters this year and this kind of idea pops up over and over. Iowa voter Marilynn Leggio said she thought Elizabeth Warren would be a good president. But...
MARILYNN LEGGIO: I think there's a lot of men out there that would never vote for a woman. I hate to say that, but I think that.
KURTZLEBEN: And here's Anita Burgess, who saw several candidates speak at the National Action Network's annual conference in New York City. She says she really does want a woman president.
ANITA BURGESS: I do, but I don't think they're going to do it. And so I'm not going to - I can't waste my vote either, you know, because we got to get the orange man. I'm sorry. The orange man got to go.
KURTZLEBEN: And it's not just about gender. Burgess said something similar about South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
BURGESS: I think he's great. I think he's a nice guy. I don't think he's going to win the primary. I don't think the country is ready for it. They're not even ready for a woman. They're not going to be ready for a gay man.
KURTZLEBEN: This year, Democrats are doing some serious mental gymnastics around this idea of electability as they try to game out whom their fellow Americans might vote for. That makes this year different, according to Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.
CELINDA LAKE: Normally, in the past, electability is a factor, but usually people think whoever they like best is the most electable.
KURTZLEBEN: But this year, some Democratic voters say they may like one candidate or type of candidate but think another would more easily win. All of which is striking, especially from a party that just six months ago elected a diverse wave of candidates to Congress, most notably a record number of women. But Lake says presidential elections are different.
LAKE: Voters are very, very willing to send women, younger candidates, people of color, LGBTQ candidates to Congress, but for president or executive office in general, we know from the data that people are much, much more cautious.
KURTZLEBEN: Electability, of course, isn't just about identity. Often when voters or pundits bring it up, they talk ideology. Often the idea is that moderates might be more electable. But Lake says that voters tend to perceive women, nonwhite and non-straight candidates as more progressive. And to some activists, that means that the concept of electability is fundamentally flawed. Aimee Allison is founder of She The People, which promotes women of color in politics.
AIMEE ALLISON: You know, we all grew up with the idea of what a president looks like. It's the guy on the $1 bill. There's always been, with the exception of Obama, always been a white male president, always been a male president. And so our collective political imagination, it's almost like it doesn't function past the thing that we've seen.
KURTZLEBEN: So now some voters are looking at the last thing they've seen - that is, Donald Trump, a white man who presents a hyper masculine persona - defeating the first woman major party nominee. But that's no reason not to support a woman, according to Kate Manne, author of the book "Down Girl: The Logic Of Misogyny."
KATE MANNE: Is it OK to just sort of throw up your hands and say she's not electable, so I'll put my, you know, my vote and my support elsewhere? I would argue it's actually not ethical because we won't get change that way.
KURTZLEBEN: So in 2020, a big question will be how much of a priority that kind of change is for Democratic voters. Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News.
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