From virtually the beginning of her campaign, New York Senator Hillary Clinton has made every effort to maximize her advantages among women voters. It seems a natural constituency for the first woman to climb to the top of a presidential field. Polls throughout the campaign have showed Clinton earning the support of far more women than men, giving Democrats hope that, in a general election, she would enlarge the party's traditional gender gap and cruise to the White House with stronger backing from women than any other candidate in history.In looking back at Clinton's stump speeches, addresses and debate peformances, I have not seen much that would ensure she pulls a big gender gap victory. Sure, she will have a gender gap, but as I pointed out in my previous posts, her gap may not be as big as she hopes because is not appealing to women as much as she may think.
But now, as polls show her once-strong lead in Iowa slipping, the once-inevitable Democratic nominee looks human again, vulnerable to defeat from Illinois Senator Barack Obama. If Obama pulls off the once unthinkable scenario of beating Clinton, a post-mortem analysis will show it is women, once seen as Clinton's key to a guaranteed victory, who caused her defeat.
Neither Clinton's or Obama's politics are particularly appealing to me. But as Wilson points out, the tone between the two candidates is markedly different:
Obama's rise among women, some say, is thanks to a fundamentally different background from which the two candidates come. Clinton, a major player in Democratic politics for a decade and a half, has made it known that any effort to attack her will be met with a swift response. She has portrayed herself as tough on the campaign trail, willing to fight to get things done. Obama, by contrast, is new on the scene. He has promised to create a more open government and has emphasized compromise and hope.The more positive tenor of Obama appeals to women, and it must be said men as well, who look for a more positive outlook. Campaigns, particularly open seat campaigns, are about the future and for many people, and particularly many women, Hillary Clinton is not about the future, she is the past in a different dress. Obama presents an image of hope and optimism which is driving his success at the polls.
"There's a real difference between the candidates in distinguishing their leadership style," said Selzer. Because of issues ranging from husband Bill Clinton's presidential library being slow to open records, to questionable fundraising practices from campaign associates like Norman Hsu, to the partisan tensions of the Clinton Administration, "people hearken back to a time when people felt like things weren't on the up and up," she said.
Obama, meanwhile, has focused much of his appeal to women on his personal story. "I know what it's like to be raised by a single mom who's trying to work and go to school and raise two kids at the same time, doesn't have any support from the father," he told the New York Times. "These are issues I'm passionate about." Michelle Obama has told audiences that her husband is "a man comfortable with strong women in his life."
Those statements are music to women voters' ears. Obama "comes across as authentic and a sympathetic figure who know women need a change," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, now a contributor to several news organizations and not associated with any campaign. "For now, he is believable, and women like honesty in a candidate."