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Beto O'Rourke Must Navigate Being A White Man Running In A Diverse Field Of Candidates

Beto O'Rourke addresses the crowd at the Texas Democratic Convention in Fort Worth last June.
Julia Reihs
Beto O'Rourke addresses the crowd at the Texas Democratic Convention in Fort Worth last June.

Beto O’Rourke is running for the Democratic presidential nomination among a field of candidates that includes six women and five people of color, so far.

His supporters – especially his female supporters – have complex feelings about the fact he's a white man. It's something O’Rourke is trying to navigate, too.

Sandy Gunter, Lisa Hurley and Nicole Jolliff drove from Illinois to Iowa over the weekend to see O’Rourke run in a 5K. They hadn't decided on a candidate yet and wanted to see what he was like.

Gunter said she thinks O'Rourke has an edge – but for a reason she's uncomfortable with.

“I think our political system is a mess,” she said. “I think a woman isn’t going to win. We are not ready. Sick, but true. So, he’s probably – he’s up there.”

Hurley said that's something she’s been thinking about. She said female candidates are already being treated differently by the media.

“The likeability factor that they always talk about,” she said, “it’s like – that’s only for women.”

Gunter said she sees a double standard, too.

“If you are a strong woman, you are a B-word,” she said. “And that’s a fact.” 

Jolliff said she thinks some women are part of the problem.

“I was surprised at how many women hated Hillary," she said. "I was shocked by that … women will not rally behind women.”

Gunter said she felt slighted by the 2016 election and doesn’t think things are getting better.

Robert Grimm of Irvine, Calif., also stopped by the race Saturday to see O’Rourke. He said while he is curious about O’Rourke, he's actually most excited about Kamala Harris, one of the senators from his home state.

“I’d actually like to see a woman president,” he said. “I mean, we should have had one already.”

Grimm said he’s hopeful it will happen this time.

“I think either Elizabeth [Warren] or Kamala will probably be our leader," he said.

While Grimm is bullish about the prospects of a female president, Gunter said she’s just hoping if a man wins the nomination, he'll pick a woman as his running mate.

“Whoever it is, they need to get a woman as a vice president,” she said.

After a meet and greet in Dubuque later Saturday, John Hohnestadt stopped O'Rourke and asked whether he’d put a woman on his ticket if he won the nomination.

After a long pause, O’Rourke said, “It’s hard for me to think of a reason that I would not do that.”

But, he said, "talking about who I would pick as vice president just feels really premature."

Hohnestadt said he felt it was important to consider because there’s never been a female vice president in the U.S. He said he wants O’Rourke, as a younger candidate, to move the country forward.

“I know it feels premature, but you are half of a ticket when you are becoming president,” he said. "You represent the other half of this country, too. They need to see a woman in a position of power in this country.”

O’Rourke said he agreed and repeated that he felt it was presumptuous to be talking about who he'd select as vice president.

"But your point is taken," he said.

During a taping of a political podcast in Iowa, O’Rourke said the U.S. still has “a long way to go” when it comes to opportunities for women. He said he plans to do what he can to change that.

“There is much more that I can do,” he said.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016. She covers politics and health care, and is part of the NPR-Kaiser Health News reporting collaborative. Previously she worked as a reporter at public radio stations in Louisville, Ky.; Miami and Fort Myers, Fla., where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.