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The #MeToo election isn't happening

Illustration of a single MeToo sign with many other signs in front of it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

If you've been watching the 2020 Democratic debates so far — which has a record number of women running in a primary — it's easy to forget that #MeToo ever happened.

Why it matters: It's the first presidential election since the rise of the movement, which the Democrats embraced. Yet the only presidential candidate who's making these issues a staple of her campaign is Kirsten Gillibrand, who's struggling to clear 1% in the polls — and the issues have barely registered in the debates so far.

The big picture: The 2018 midterms were a sign of the political power women harnessed after #MeToo. Women helped the Democratic Party take back the House in 2018 by running in red and purple districts and showing up in droves as voters.

Yet women's issues have so far taken a back seat to others, from health care to climate change and immigration, and to the candidates' fights with each other.

  • For the most part, the debate moderators haven't even been asking about these issues, from sexual harassment policies to paid family leave.

Gillibrand is the only 2020 Democrat who has made her campaign explicitly about women and women's place in this country. She just hosted a reproductive rights town hall, days before an 8-week abortion ban is set to take place in Missouri.

  • But it only got covered by local St. Louis media. Everyone else was focused on Elizabeth Warren's Minnesota rally because of the crowd size.
  • And Gillibrand is still struggling to qualify for the next debate in September. "If I'm on that stage ... I'll bring the necessary attention to the all-out assault we've seen on women's reproductive rights — even if the moderators continue to ignore it," she wrote in an email to supporters Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Joe Biden, who faced allegations of inappropriate touching or invading women's personal space, is still polling at the top.

  • And none of the top-tier candidates have made women's issues a defining theme. They've saved that distinction for their plans for the wealth tax, Medicare for All and climate change — and, of course, for Trump.

The bottom line: Democrats made themselves the standard bearers on #MeToo issues — practically shoving Al Franken out of the Senate — but you wouldn't know it from the way their campaign to defeat Trump has played out so far.