The recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton by the National Organization for Women (NOW) was not surprising - she is, after all, the only female candidate in the presidential race, and in 2005, she earned a 100% rating from the organization.
However, it is significant.
Earlier this month, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that Mrs. Clinton's campaign "intends to use social networking tools and other Web technology to develop a thousands-strong Women's Leadership Network, which would promote Clinton's candidacy." In other words, Mrs. Clinton is developing a strategy aimed at winning the Democratic nomination that relies on her appeal to women voters, who her advisers estimate will comprise 60% of the voting pool in the 2008 Democratic primaries.
Mrs. Clinton is in it to win it. And she thinks she will do so by locking down and turning out the women's vote.
It's an approach that strategist Dick Morris, who worked for Bill Clinton, thinks will be successful. In January, he commented to NewsMax magazine that "Hillary will likely win in 2008 because she can bring in millions of new voters, largely single women, who do not normally participate in elections."
That a relatively large segment of women do not vote, and that many of them are single, is accepted. Surveys conducted by Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway's polling firms after the 2004 election showed that despite heavy voter turnout that year, a still-sizeable percentage of women did not vote.
However, to conclude that these women will naturally be drawn to Mrs. Clinton, or that they constitute a group that she can tap into and mobilize in her favor with any ease, is quite another thing.
First, as Ms. Lake and Ms. Conway noted in their book "What Women Really Want," there is little statistical evidence to show that women prefer female candidates to male candidates. In the post-feminist era, women weigh candidates on the basis of policy, not gender — and that's something that makes the idea of women "backing our own" and propelling Mrs. Clinton to victory in 2008 because she too has two X chromosomes seem a little fantastical.
Of course, part of Mr. Morris's theory with regard to a "girl power" presidential victory may be more than the dubious logic that us girls vote for us girls. His thinking may also result from a belief that women speak to women best on women's issues — and that since women care most about women's issues, that will do the job.
But according to Ms. Lake and Ms. Conway, the top three issues for women at the time of the 2004 election were jobs and the economy, Iraq, and Social Security and Medicare (collectively being the focal point for 36% of women).
So, if Mr. Morris thinks that Mrs. Clinton campaigning on "kitchen table" issues like education and health care is going to generate that wave of support to propel her all the way back up Pennsylvania Avenue, he should think again. More to the point, if NOW is counting on Mrs. Clinton succeeding by virtue of outreach on their pet issues, they should also reconsider. Education and health care were the most important issues for only 15% of women surveyed by Ms. Lake and Ms. Conway, and abortion was the number one issue for only 5%.
Setting aside these problems, there is one much bigger problem with the idea that Mrs. Clinton can and will win by garnering the support of women: A lot of women simply cannot stand her and will never vote for her.
A recent Rasmussen poll showed that 43% of women would not vote for Mrs. Clinton. Moreover, in Mrs. Clinton's target demographic, her numbers are not especially high. A recent Gallup poll shows that just 39% of female Democratic voters support her. Democratic women between 18 and 49 like her slightly better, but her 43% share of that market is hardly the full-court dominance that her campaign wants, and perhaps even expects.
To many women, Mrs. Clinton represents everything that is hated about feminism: the coldness, the disdain for non-alpha females, even the undercurrent of contempt for those young and pretty enough to garner attention from men (like, say, her husband). To others, she sums up everything that is hated about the stereotyped doormat housewife straight out of the 1950s: the woman who stuck with her husband despite him treating her like dirt, and defended him and even helped him increase his personal and political power,
despite his misdeeds.
Mrs. Clinton may be trying to convince women that she's their girl in 2008, with her Web site's mentions of NOW's endorsement, her backing by Billie Jean King, and all its references to health care and equal pay. But the fact of the matter is, for many women, Hillary is not what we want.