Doubts persist for Dem voters about female nominee in 2020

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In this Feb. 3, 2020, photo, a woman caucusing for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sits in the Warren section at the Precinct 68 caucus at the Knapp Center on the Drake University campus as the night of caucusing gets underway in Des Moines, Iowa. After female candidates helped power the Democratic party to retake the House in 2018 the party's women seem only moderately enthusiastic about voting for a woman for president. AP VoteCast found women in Iowa were only slightly more likely to back a woman than a man. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PLYMOUTH, N.H. – In a perfect world, Susan Stepp, a 73-year-old retiree, would be voting vote for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in New Hampshire's Democratic presidential primary Tuesday, she says. But that won't be happening.

“I am not sure a woman is the best candidate to go up against Trump,” Stepp said recently as she stood in the back of a conference room listening to tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang as part of her hunt for the best candidate to challenge the Republican incumbent.

Stepp's concern has coursed through the Democratic primary for months, registering in polling, interviews and, now, the first votes cast. In Iowa's caucuses last Monday, many Democrats did not prioritize breaking the gender barrier to the Oval Office and they viewed being a woman as a hindrance rather than an advantage in the race.

Only about one-third of Iowa caucusgoers backed a female candidate. Topping the caucus field were two men, former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders,. Women were only slightly more likely than men to back one of the three women in the race, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 3,000 Iowa voters.

Most Iowa Democrats said it was important for a woman to be president in their lifetimes. But many voters, including about half of all women, said a female nominee would have a harder time beating Donald Trump in November.

“He will just use that against her, like he did Hillary," Stepp said, looking back to Trump's 2016 race against Hillary Clinton in 2016. "He doesn’t debate. He just insults. I don’t think he would have that same effect if he went up against a strong man.” Stepp said she plans to vote for Sanders.

Those perceptions present an undeniable headwind for the women in the race, who have spent months making the case that a woman can win. As they seek success in New Hampshire, both Warren and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar must work to energize voters about the chance to make history and persuade them it is possible this year, in this race against this president.

“In 2020, we can and should have a woman for president," Warren said at a CNN town hall this past week, days after taking third in Iowa. Klobuchar came in fifth. The Associated Press has not called a winner in the Iowa caucus because the race is too close to call.