Will Enough Men Stand By This Woman?

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 20, 2007

Like many New Hampshire voters, Matthew McLaughlin is rather well schooled in presidential politics. He exhaustively reads newspapers, takes in the television ads flooding his state these days and watches the debates. He is a former Navy pilot with a particular interest in the next commander in chief, and he certainly views himself as progressive enough to accept a woman in the job.

And this particular woman, in contention for the Democratic nomination? McLaughlin, 49, doesn't hesitate for a second, as he stands in the grocery store on a recent snowy afternoon in Bedford, holding the basket while his wife loads up on cold cuts.

"The thing I don't like about Hillary Clinton is that you cannot get a straight answer from her," says the registered Democrat. "She talks on both sides of an issue. . . . I was struck when Barack Obama laid out his position on Social Security reform and she refused to give her opinion. My view is: 'Like me or not. This is who I am, this is where I stand.' "

McLaughlin's choice for the Democratic nomination: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. "Here's the thing, you delete one thing on his r¿sum¿ and he still has a ton of other credits to his name," McLaughlin says. "You take away her Senate years and what does she have? She was first lady."

As the world of politics fixates on the women's vote in this cycle, there looms a question: What about the guys?

They're in the gender gap.

In Iowa, Clinton's support among male Democratic caucusgoers lags behind Barack Obama, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

In New Hampshire, she's doing better among male Democrats, but she faces questions about her candor. Half of men say she's not willing to say what she really thinks. Large majorities say that Obama and John Edwards are.

Nationally, her gender gap among Democrats is smaller, the poll shows, but some analysts suggest that these numbers are not strong enough for a general election, because a majority of male independents view her unfavorably.

Her lead in the national polls has been attributed primarily to female supporters, and her campaign has worked doggedly to cultivate them. She also has an edge with male primary voters nationally within her own party. But introduce independents, those precious swing voters she will need to win a general election, and the picture is not as kind. Let's just say that if this were high school, she wouldn't make prom court.

Women's rights advocates attribute male skepticism about Clinton to long-ingrained sexism -- and a sense that men, no matter what they say, just aren't ready for a female president. And political conservatives have exploited those often-unspoken fears of female power to caricature Clinton for years. But in several interviews with Democratic men across the country, the stated reasons for their aversion to Clinton seem more complicated, and in many cases, far more visceral than substantive.

They just don't like her, some say. They don't know what she stands for. They believe her word is no good, that she doesn't believe that she can be held accountable. They see her as intellectual snob who lets you know she's smarter. They say she sounds like everybody's ex-wife. They can't tell if she's the loyal, traditional wife who stayed with her husband for love after his humiliating extramarital affair -- or a canny politician who stayed because it was politically expedient. Even: Is she a Yankees or a Cubs fan?

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