Feminist, bachelor, conciliator: How the media brand the 2020 Democrats




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Kirsten Gillibrand, in case you were wondering, is running for president as a woman.

“She believes the country and the Democratic Party need an unabashedly feminist campaign for president,” The New York Times says, interviewing the home-state senator over a glass of pinot noir in a Manhattan wine bar.

“This is my space,” the Times quotes her as saying, adding that while there are several female Democrats in the race, “Ms. Gillibrand is the only one who is making running as a woman, for women, the central theme of her candidacy.”

With so many Democrats joining the 2020 stampede, the media are trying to brand each one, often with help from the contenders and their strategists. And this could define the early stages of the race.

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Journalists are doing this for some of the usual reasons: Who are these people? What do they stand for? Do they have a shot at winning the nomination and defeating Donald Trump?

But with the contest already crowded with folks who are less than household names, the media also have a need to cast them as “characters” that go beyond biography and position papers. Otherwise, the whole thing becomes a blur.

Amy Klobuchar, who declared over the weekend in a Minnesota blizzard, is winning early notice as someone who works well with the other party. And on the media front, she is drawing praise from … conservatives.

Exhibit A: The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which touted her as a serious player:

“Though Ms. Klobuchar won’t be the first choice of the socialist left, she is running as a candidate who is liberal enough while also a sharp contrast in temperament to President Trump … Unlike most 2020 contenders, Ms. Klobuchar hasn’t parroted lefty slogans.”

George Will calls her “the person perhaps best equipped to send the current president packing.”

And Politico quotes prominent Republican senators as calling Klobuchar likable and effective — and hoping that doesn’t hurt her.

None of that wins Democratic primaries, of course, and as the Journal noted, 49 percent of those questioned in one recent poll said they’d never heard of Klobuchar — and another 21 percent knew too little to have an opinion.

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We see the branding instinct applied to Cory Booker, with Politico Magazine asking: “Is America Ready for a Single President?” So he’s “The Bachelor,” in the mold of a certain TV show.

And we certainly see it with Beto O’Rourke, who gets lots of coverage because, well, Betomania. When the former congressman spoke in El Paso near the president’s rally Monday night, he generated headlines like this one in The Washington Post: “Trump, O’Rourke Face Off at Border as 2020 Campaign Gears Up.”

Bonus points: Trump took a shot at him, saying, “Beto was defeated, too. But he suffered a great defeat.”

Even as the party’s presidential candidates are trying to grab some oxygen, much of the media spotlight is falling on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and two other freshmen lawmakers.

AOC has skillfully built a huge social media following, but her Green New Deal, while dissed by Nancy Pelosi, has been a big fat target by virtue of its more radical proposals.

As Politico observes, the National Republican Campaign Committee has sent out thousands of emails against Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, with GOP lawmakers and aides privately admitting the three are their “main focus.”

Tlaib is the lawmaker who assailed Trump the night she was elected, talking about impeaching the M-F’er. Omar just apologized for an attack on AIPAC that was denounced by some members of her own party as an anti-Semitic reference to Jewish money. Trump has called for Omar to resign.

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As freshmen, they have little real power, yet in the media arena, they are stars.

The risk for the GOP is being seen as going after women who are black, Hispanic and Muslim. “I think the fact that somebody like myself, who’s a woman of color, is now an equal to many of them — people are very fearful of that,” Tlaib told Politico.

But Democrats have played the same game, trying to paint controversial pols such as Steve King and Todd Aiken as the face of the Republican Party.

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Little wonder that the GOP would embrace the same tactic.

All the more reason why the 2020 candidates, with an assist from the press, have an urgent need to break through the static.

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