Gender Politics In Ohio: Clinton Mostly Ignores Palin
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Halfway through September, in the sprint to Election Day, and the scene at a sweltering gym in this rusted, blue-collar city looked like one of those marathon days back in April.
"Hil-lar-y! Hil-lar-y! Hil-lar-y!!" chanted the 1,500 supporters, mostly white women, who had waited patiently for their heroine. Hillary Clinton was back in Ohio, a critical battleground state that she won handily in the primary. This time, she is campaigning for her former rival, and there's a new glass-ceiling smasher, who's been appointed to make the history Clinton hoped to earn, rolling up more than 18 million votes.
Clinton has given no indication she smarts about this dramatic turn of events. She has kept a low profile since her speech at the Democratic National Convention three weeks ago, declining to grant interviews as she campaigned in Florida, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Nevada. She mentions Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin only in passing. Sunday, armed with a 19-minute stump speech, boldly dressed in a bright fuchsia jacket, she was energetic and forceful as she moved about the rally here and in Elyria, outside Cleveland, urging all her supporters to vote for Barack Obama.
"Barack and I may have started on separate paths, but we are on the same journey now," she said, trying to convince her audience, women who wear large "Hillary Rocks" buttons and carry signs from her presidential campaign. She said Obama would pursue universal health care, make college affordable and end the war in Iraq. She charged that John McCain would privatize Social Security and "still thinks it's okay that women aren't offered equal pay for equal work."
Obama "would have had a better go of it had he picked Hillary for his running mate," said Barbara Price, a quality inspector in Elyria. She supported Clinton for president and says she is worried about the new energy that Palin has provided to the Republican ticket.
This industrial city could be a microcosm of what women have been wrestling with since the Alaska governor was selected as McCain's running mate. She has been praised as strong and genuine, an Annie Oakley in heels who strove for and got it all: career, family, guns. Her popularity has solidified the conservative base, but it has also raised new questions about gender and politics, and whether any female regardless of qualifications or views who reaches the pinnacle of power can be considered a good development for all women.
At these rallies were the working women from middle America who saw Clinton as a passionate advocate for their causes. Many were bewildered and indignant at polls showing that white women with children have swung toward McCain since he picked Palin, a social conservative.
"If women were supporting Hillary just because she was a woman and now can switch to Palin -- they have no idea what Hillary stands for," said Tish Hopkins, a retired teacher. "It's not just about gender."
The comparisons between Clinton and Palin were inevitable -- two politicians in a uniquely powerful place for women -- as "Saturday Night Live" humorously demonstrated last weekend. But while Palin has tried to align herself with Clinton to reach some of her supporters, Clinton has been reluctant to highlight their differences when it comes to women's advocacy. Widely discussed in Democratic circles is whether Clinton should specifically take on Palin and define what her election could mean for women. Clinton and the Obama campaign agree that she should ignore Palin and focus instead on the top of the ticket, McCain, to avoid the specter of two women publicly squabbling.
"Every time the focus is off McCain, Democrats are wasting their time," said Paul Costello, who has worked for a number of women in politics, including Kitty Dukakis and Rosalynn Carter. "Hillary should be talking about why McCain is wrong for women."