‘There’s a Real Tension.’ Democrats Puzzle Over Whether a Woman Will Beat Trump

To those still reeling from the 2016 loss, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, Mrs. Clinton’s running mate, had a blunt message: “Get over it and use 2017 and 2018 as the evidence that the pathogen has left the body.”

Rather than a liability, several Democrats believe that having women run could be a galvanizing force in the presidential race, as it was in the midterms, when female candidates changed the playbook for how women run for office. Many campaigned with their young children and made their personal stories central to their message. They were not afraid to challenge incumbents.

Those campaigns, and the prospect of multiple female candidates, may change how women are treated in the presidential race.

“When you have two women running, the question becomes, what are you going to fight for, what do you believe in — not what are you going to do with your children, how do you get your hair to stay like that all day,” said Representative Katie Porter, who defeated a female Republican incumbent to flip her California congressional seat in November.

Ms. Lake, the Democratic pollster, pointed to women’s high turnout rates in primaries, and to their success in championing issues like health care and education, which could continue to resonate in a presidential race. Those topics, along with immigration and income inequality, are likely to form the base of a national message for the nominee.

And she noted that many of the states with early presidential primaries or caucuses have had women as governors or senators, suggesting that those voters had no reluctance about electing women. These include the former Democratic governor of New Hampshire; Democratic senators in New Hampshire, Nevada and California; the current Republican governor of Iowa; and the former governor of South Carolina.

As Democrats prepare for a crowded primary field, there are other considerations that have nothing to do with gender, but rather the party’s divisions over ideology and geography. Some are focusing on reversing Electoral College losses in the Midwest and argue a centrist from the region, male or female, might have broader appeal; others believe only progressives can fire up the party base. Senators Harris, Gillibrand and Warren are based on the coasts and have allied themselves with the party’s left.

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