The Hillary Mystique

One of my liberal friend’s husband is a long-time consultant to Democrat  candidates, so when he says that having Hillary run in 2016 as the first woman presidential candidate would assure an additional 15% of the vote,  he should know what he’s talking about. 

But it’s not what he’s talking about, it’s who! Just where would those additional votes come from? Certainly not from Republican ranks. And not from loyal Democrats, who already think Hill is the best thing since, well, Bubba. So this supposed “margin of victory” would have to be garnered from uncommitted voters -- largely female Independents -- who decide that the gender of a candidate is a prime game-changer in casting their vote. 

Are there women who would vote for another woman, regardless of other factors such as ideology, experience, and personality? Sure. If men voted for candidates based solely on their being male, they would be accused of sexism or gender bias. But the actions of minorities are never perceived in that way. So the big question is this: apart from wanting to see a woman -- any woman -- in the White House other than as First Lady, what exactly might be the allure of Hillary Clinton?

You could begin with her government experience, which is not, after all, inconsiderable. She ran for and won a U.S. Senate seat from New York, representing a state in which she had never previously resided. Carpetbagging was not a concern, however, breezily dismissed with the understanding that a world-class metropolitan icon like The Big Apple is home to us all. 

After an unremarkable eight-year stint in Congress, Hillary was emboldened to run for president. Despite her surprising -- and degrading -- primary loss to Obama, she stoically kept herself in the public eye by becoming the third female Secretary of State. Though still dogged by unresolved issues on her watch, she’s baaaack, touchy-feeling her way to a Second Coming. Every electoral contest is influenced by the degree of voter motivation. So as Hillary slouches toward Davenport to be reborn, who are the women of America most likely to fall in line behind her? And will they be enough to propel her to victory?

First, there are those who want to get even with men. Hillary is a prime candidate for this group, because she was publicly humiliated at the hands of her famous husband. It wasn’t just “that woman, Monica Lewinsky.” It was the bowers of babes before her, like Gennifer (with a “G”) Flowers. Hillary-supporters of this ilk are out for revenge. They picture President Hillary giving the orders, while Bill gives fussy, intimate teas for Congressional spouses. (Man, would he love that!) 

Then there are the women who think that somehow Ms. Clinton has “earned the right” to be president. They believe in seeing destiny fulfilled. If they happen to resent any guy, it’s not Bill but Barack -- for having crashed the party and thrown the hostess under the bus.  Now they presume it is a woman’s turn to be leader of the free world. They think Democrats are chastened enough not to try any surprises next time around.  In fact, they are assured by the meager and undistinguished Democratic field that no charismatic young challenger will be appearing out of nowhere, facing off with Ms. Clinton, and coming away with the prize. 

Also quick to embrace Clinton are the reformed rats who deserted her Ship of State in 2008 when the contest between their former favorite and the new guy came down to the wire. These include high-profile women like Lois Capps, long-time Congressperson from Santa Barbara, California. She was conflicted back then, torn between her own long-time dedication to Hillary and the fact that her daughter had been given a cushy position in Obama’s election campaign. But blood, it seemed, was thicker than gender and more pragmatic than loyalty. With a show of sad reluctance, Lois Capps slipped into the enemy’s camp.   

Back in 2008, there were plenty of other Lois Capps-like lapsers out there. And for many of them, Hillary’s second try is the pivotal moment to salve their consciences and make amends. Now is the perfect time to banish remnants of remorse through a renewed show of fealty. These women may have been convinced six years ago that Hillary would end up a divisive presidential nominee, even unelectable, but for whatever reason, they feel differently now. It’s all about giving folks a second chance. After all, that’s the American way.

Still, there’s little assurance that a female candidate is a natural draw for women in general. In fact, polls show that women are not necessarily inclined to vote for a candidate because of her sex. We can look back at past races where women on the national ticket might have made a difference in attracting more voters to their ticket. Granted there were other factors, but Mondale’s selection of Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate was not enough to win. McCain and Palin were likewise unsuccessful. 

But what about the supposed 15% the Democratic guru said would assure Hillary’s victory? It’s a prediction without precedent, since no woman has ever run for the highest office in our land.

However, we can study other important, if lesser, current political races. Colorado has tightly contested ones for U.S. senator and governor. In both, Democrats are spending big bucks attacking the Republican candidates for their “war on women.” Yet thus far, incumbent Democrat Governor John Hickenlooper has split the women’s vote with his Republican challenger, Bob Beauprez. Democratic Senator Mark Udall has been lashing out against his opponent Cory Gardner’s stand on abortion and contraception, as well as his sponsorship of a Congressional bill to give protected status to fertilized eggs. The outcome for both contests remains statistically too close to call.

On the other hand, in the case of a woman herself running, Senator Kay Hagen of North Carolina, whose strategy relies heavily on asserting the Republicans’ “war on women” now enjoys a 45/39% lead over her male challenger, Tom Tillis, reflecting support from women, particular those who are single. That senate race is shaping up to be one of the most expensive of all time -- and there are five crucial weeks to go. It’s important, however, to remember the advantage of incumbency. While that will not apply in the 2016 presidential election, Republicans will do their best to make it “incumbent” upon Hillary Clinton to face up to the Obama administration’s failures, of which she was a part.   

One thing is clear. Women as a progressive voting bloc can no longer be taken for granted. Circumstances are changing. Women now earn the majority of college and graduate degrees. Armed with knowledge and skills, they have become more involved in the world beyond the home. As a result, they aren’t stereotypically “of one mind.” Nor can they reliably be counted on as “one issue” (i.e. reproductive rights or even equal pay for equal work) voters. Conventional wisdom no longer universally applies to women, because they are no longer conventional.   

That's not to say that if Ms. Clinton eventually decides to run there wouldn’t be women who would support her primarily because they want to have, for the first time in history, a woman President of the United States.  Still, it remains to be seen whether that alone is enough to attract an additional 15% of voters to insure her election.