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Lessons for future women candidates from Warren v. Clinton

Make no mistake, Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton are both running right now. Even if neither is a declared candidate for any office, each is running hard to be in the best position to do just that, if and when that time arrives. And the fact is: the (mere) running of Hillary Clinton and Sen. Warren (D-Mass.)—along with its requisite issue and message positioning— reveals how women candidates are no longer running on platforms that emphasize their gender.

So what lessons can women politicians, political operatives and voters—and the men who also care—draw from these two historic races? What do Clinton’s and Warren’s current moves portend for other women who now seek high public office and big political power? What appears paramount in this first-ever contest in American history?

{mosads}For one, women candidates are also no longer primarily proponents of women’s and children’s issues. Neither Warren nor Clinton asks us to choose her because she is a woman with prototypical female experiences: motherhood — and grandmother-hood! — are (only) a bonus play. Instead, in her current campaign, Clinton stresses her prototypical-for-a-president political and government experience, while Warren emphasizes a message of economic inequality and the need to break-up the Wall Street-D.C. marriage.

They also no longer feel compelled to make the case that their personal history is every woman’s. Instead, Warren stresses her experience of poverty—notably an experience most big-players with big donors do not share.

Clinton stresses her most “male” of political commitments and skills: e.g., endless campaigning; raising big money; willingness to make risky, big deals; and an aptitude for subjects once deemed only male, like economics and foreign policy.

Women candidates are also no longer characterized as outside players. They are inside, part of the establishment, with all the ups and downs that go with that status. And, importantly, there are now women candidates with differing degrees of insider-ness, yielding different points of access to cash, power, and influence. Will Clinton, Inc. be a winning play for voters who have never seen a woman, much less one with such business power and important personal ties, run for the presidency? Or, will voters prefer a woman who allies herself with the working family and distances herself from Wall Street?  Either way – the gender of the candidate does not determine insider status.

Do Clinton and Warren matter beyond their attainment of historic candidacies? Yes, they do. Big-time. Recently, I was at a national, bipartisan gathering of hundreds of women interested in holding public office. I talked to dozens of them, and while they differed widely in message and tone — just as Warren and Clinton do — over and over again, I heard the pride each had in Clinton and Warren choosing to run. Women who fight to lead. Women who declare a woman’s (political) place is every (political) place. Women who are making the earth move beneath their feet, everyday.

These potential future candidates rallied around the importance of all women candidates being outspoken advocates for equal justice, no matter how tough at times. Clinton’s and Warren’s campaigns make it clear that a woman can both advocate for women and become among the most powerful people in the world, and there isn’t just one way to do it. 

Sive is the author of Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House; an adjunct lecturer at Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago; and an expert on women’s political participation and public leadership.

Tags Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton

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