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Women ex-legislators can empathize with balancing act Hillary faces

As a plea for change took a front-row seat over experience in Thursday’s Iowa caucuses, Hillary Rodham Clinton took the microphone to face her disappointment with a smile.

It may have helped that her experience includes publicly facing disappointment before.

But for the lone woman among presidential candidates and the Democratic frontrunner for many weeks, the result was not what she expected.

“That’s such a hard thing to realize — the truth — when you’ve worked so hard,” said former Minnesota Sen. Becky Lourey, a Democrat who supports John Edwards in the race but sympathizes with Clinton. Lourey can relate after her unsuccessful run for Minnesota governor two years ago.

“What became clear for Hillary was she wasn’t the people’s second choice, and the younger women were going to Obama,” said Lourey, who wasn’t surprised by the drop in support among women under 30. Lourey said she never counted on women’s support merely because they share her gender. “I’ve always counted on issues for support,” she said. “Men have opinions all over the place. And so do women.”

The prospect of the first woman president may have less emotional resonance for women under 30 than for older women, said Judith Roy, coordinator of the women and gender studies program at Century College in White Bear Lake. Unlike older women who made small gains along the way, many younger women have confidence they can do what they set out to do. “The immediacy of having a woman president may not be as important to them,” she said.

Media commentators Thursday night tended to soften the blow of Iowa caucus results for Clinton by reminding audiences not to count her out (or, in at least one reference, not to count “the Clintons” out) so early in the race for president.

Candidates for change
Hillary Clinton’s former role as first lady, which she lists among her qualifications for president, and the experiences and associations that came with it have led political pundits to label her as Washington elite and a political insider. As key messages emerged in Barack Obama’s and John Edwards’ post-caucus speeches about restoring power to the common people and commentators coined the term “change candidates,” those categories seemed unlikely to include Hillary Clinton.

But in her speech Thursday night, Clinton also talked about change. “Americans need a new beginning,” she said. And on the campaign trail this morning in New Hampshire, Clinton portrayed herself not only as a candidate who desires change, but one who can produce it — as she has for 35 years, she said, according to an MSNBC report.

How strongly she can spin that message is up for grabs, said Judith Roy, coordinator of the women and gender studies program at Century College in White Bear Lake. In televised speeches Thursday night, “Both Obama and Edwards were calling for change, and she was, too,” Roy said. “But that wasn’t the main focus of her campaign at the beginning.”

A likability factor continues to loom for the public Clinton, Roy said. While most people consider her smart, knowledgeable and shrewd, they don’t necessarily like her, she said. “One thing we expect our women candidates to exude is a warm, caring personality,” she said. “The term ‘cold’ has been used (for Clinton). It would be interesting to know whether the same term would be used for a man with the same type of personality.”

Dee Long, a former DFL lawmaker and speaker of the House, has met Clinton one on one several times and leans toward supporting her as a candidate. “She’s warm and funny,” Long said of her demeanor, “but she doesn’t have her husband’s skill of relating to large groups in public.”

Hillary’s legacy
Women candidates are held to higher standards than men in many categories, said Sen. Tarryl Clark, a St. Cloud Democrat and assistant House majority leader who supports Clinton and co-chairs her Minnesota steering committee. “Women are expected to look fresher and be more articulate. They still talk about Hillary’s clothes,” she said. “One of the great things about her is she has figured out how to deal with all of that.” Her campaign can move ahead confidently even without a win in Iowa, Clark said.

And whether Clinton is elected president now or ever, she will leave a legacy for women, said former lawmakers Lourey and Long and Judith Roy, the women’s studies teacher.

“She is part of that generation that stepped up … the women’s movement that emerged in the 1960s, who cared very much and fought to change things for women,” Roy said. “She clearly is very complex, intelligent and ambitious, in a positive sense. She is showing that a woman can be taken very seriously. She is helping to clear the way for a woman to be elected president.”

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Christina Capecchi on 01/07/2008 - 12:35 pm.

    It’s interesting that gender doesn’t unify voters the way race or issues tends to.

    This WSJ article
    suggests that Hillary is having a hard time winning over the female executives you’d think would naturally support her.

    EXCERPT: “Professional women are ‘much harder sells’ than men, says a Clinton campaign adviser. ‘They’re tough.’ They are less inclined than men to see things in black and white, and seek more information before deciding, this adviser says.”

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