The Clinton campaign narrative was supposed to go something like this: Senator Clinton’s commanding lead in the polls would persist throughout 2007. January would kick off with a solid win in Iowa, followed by a blowout in New Hampshire. The race effectively would be settled by mid-January, leaving the rest of the primary season to serve as a coronation, allowing Clinton to position herself for the general campaign.
Conventional wisdom said the “female vote” was a lock for Clinton. The campaign has a director of women’s outreach, Ann Lewis, who focuses exclusively on building support among women. She encourages the creation of “Women for Hillary Councils” across the country. Organizations like Emily’s List are pouring resources into helping get Clinton elected. Left-leaning feminist groups like the National Organization for Women could hardly wait to begin working for Clinton, and offered their endorsement in March.
Clinton herself encourages women to think of her potential victory as a win for womankind. “Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work together,” she told the crowd at her all-female alma mater, Wellesley. “We’re ready to shatter that highest glass ceiling.”
For months the campaign’s female strategy seemed to work. Clinton was riding high in the polls, largely based on support from women. Zogby International released a poll in November showing Clinton and Senator Barack Obama tied among men, but Clinton enjoyed a staggering 18 point lead among women, giving her a total 11 point advantage nationally.
Among the many things that have gone wrong for the Hillary Clinton campaign over the past month is the erosion of support among women, especially in key states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. Senator Obama’s rise to front runner has been fueled by a surge in support among women. Recent polls by the Des Moines Register and Washington Post/ABC News show Obama with a lead among women in Iowa. Likewise in New Hampshire, Clinton’s support among women sank ten points over the last month, leaving her in a virtual tie with Obama.
The idea that women would obediently line up behind a woman presidential candidate — regardless of who she was — has always stretched credulity. Women overwhelmingly recognize the next president will have grave responsibilities and want the person, man or woman, best prepared to meet the challenges of the office. The media often portrays groups like NOW as representing women; in reality, few women embrace the brand of big-government paternalism advocated by these outdated feminist groups.
In any case, Hillary Clinton has always been an awkward icon for feminism. While feminist leaders applaud Clinton as a “trailblazer,” it’s hard to overlook the rather old-fashioned climb Hillary has made up the political ladder. Senator Clinton’s much vaunted years of experience have primarily been as “wife of.”
The Clinton campaign itself has see-sawed between painting Hillary’s time as First Lady as hands-on experience helping govern the country and distancing her from unpleasantness associated with her husband’s administration. This tension is vividly apparent when it comes to health care. Clinton is well-known for her role in attempting to radically alter our nation’s health-care system while First Lady. Former President Bill Clinton now has attempted to take responsibility for that debacle, which leads to an inevitable question: What exactly was Hillary’s great policy role during the 1990s, if not in healthcare?
The details of Clinton’s tenure as First Lady are muddied further by the presumptive role her husband would play in a Hillary administration. If the first lady was such an important player when Bill Clinton was in White House, then surely the “first man” would have an equally prominent role. Do Americans really want a second unelected president, especially one who brings the kind of tawdry melodrama the country associates with the Clintons?
This uneasiness with reliving the Clinton era is at the heart of Hillary’s slide in the polls. Her recent stumbles — from flip-flopping on drivers’ licenses for illegal aliens to unseemly personal attacks on Obama — would have been relatively banal if they hadn’t unearthed so many unpleasant memories.
Many Americans like the idea of a woman president. That doesn’t mean they’re willing to support Hillary Clinton to get one.
– Carrie Lukas is vice president for policy at the Independent Women’s Forum and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism.