Hillary Clinton puts women’s rights at center of her agenda

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Eight years after shying away from the historic nature of her campaign, Hillary Clinton is putting women at the center of her agenda as she contemplates a second bid to become the nation’s first woman president. 

In recent weeks, Clinton has trumpeted equal pay for women in speeches and panel discussions across the country. 

{mosads}She has also called for a “movement” to help women at work, arguing that women face not only a “glass ceiling” but a floor that could collapse underneath them, erasing the gains made to win equality between the sexes. 

And this week, she announced a new $600 million effort through the Clinton Global Initiative to help disadvantaged girls attend secondary school. 

The effort suggests that if she runs for president, Clinton has decided to take the opposite tack from 2008, when top strategists such as Mark Penn suggested she not emphasize the issue during her first White House bid.

In the post-mortem of that campaign, Clinton aides saw the failure to embrace the historic nature of her bid as a fatal mistake that contributed to her loss in the Democratic primary. 

Even worse, they witnessed Barack Obama’s campaign use the fact that voters would be electing the first black president to its advantage, making the electorate feel a part of bringing about a “change” movement.

“The fact that it didn’t happen last time is indicative of everything that went wrong,” said one longtime Hillary ally who worked on the 2008 campaign. “Now, she’s being more true to herself, doing what she’s always done and always believed. It’s not about Mark Penn writing a policy memo.”

Internal memos leaked to The Atlantic after the 2008 campaign show Penn wanted to portray Clinton in the mold of Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” and former prime minister of the United Kingdom. 

He wanted to cast her as a strong leader regardless of gender, and sought to play down the fact that she was a woman. 

Of voters, he wrote in one memo: “They do not want someone who would be the first mama, especially in this kind of world. But there is a yearning for a kind of tough single parent — someone who can combine the toughness they are used to with the negotiating adeptness they believe a woman would bring to the office.

“They are open to the first father being a woman,” he wrote.

Clinton allies argue the strategy came unnaturally to Clinton, who has long championed women and children issues.

“Hillary Clinton believes that equal opportunity and success for women and girls builds a better future for all, and that’s why she led efforts to study and improve education opportunities for girls so they have a chance for a brighter future,” said Adrienne Elrod, the communications director for Correct the Record, the pro-Hillary super-PAC. 

When it comes to 2016, there are a number of reasons to think Clinton should embrace running as the possible first woman president if she makes another White House bid.

Democrats have spent much of the last eight years solidifying their standing with women voters. Obama benefitted from a gender gap in voting in both of his general election victories, and Democrats was able to keep their Senate majority in 2010 and 2012 in large part because of support from female voters. 

“Democrats are banking, as they did in 2012, on the gender gap,” said Katherine Jellison, a professor of history at Ohio University. 

She argued that Clinton is seizing on issues that Democrats in general have realized “are winners for them.” 

“These women’s issues are great fundraising talking points for Democrats in terms of getting women’s groups and individual women to donate to campaigns,” Jellison said.

It could also be easier for Clinton to embrace running as the first woman president when she will not be running against someone set to become the first black president. The historic nature of Obama’s run for the White House in 2008 shadowed the entire campaign. 

This time around, Republicans say Clinton is simply looking for a base of support with her embrace of women. And they don’t think it will work. 

 “The problem is that, while women do feel that there is some inequality that needs to be addressed they are not necessarily a group that feels in need of a “champion” in the same way that the black community rallied around President Obama or that the anti-Wall Street crowd has rallied around [Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth] Warren,” said Katie Packer Gage, the former deputy campaign manager on the 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaign who now works at Burning Glass Consulting, a political consulting firm that focuses on messaging to women. “And women have not shown a history of rallying to a candidate based on gender.”

“I understand their strategy,” Packer Gage added. “And there isn’t really an alternative path for them.”

Jellison, however, says that Clinton undoubtedly realizes that one of the most powerful moments in her 2008 campaign was her concession speech to Obama. 

“Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it,” Clinton said at the time, bringing tears to the eyes of many supporters who gathered at the storied National Building Museum. 

Jellison and close Clinton allies predict that the line could resurface in other forms during a 2016 race. Even the super-PAC Ready for Hillary is already running with the cracks in the glass ceiling theme, releasing a logo of sorts ahead of Clinton’s much-anticipated appearance earlier this month in Iowa.

Asked how Clinton would address her historic role this time around, one former aide said,  “I hope the answer is, ‘directly.’

“She has to,” the former aide said. “Look what she did at the building museum. What was so striking about that was her whole riff. I don’t know how you don’t have a direct, strong message about women going forward after that moment.” 

And Clinton allies argue that embracing women’s issues comes naturally to Clinton. 

Tracy Sefl, a senior adviser to Ready for Hillary who worked on the 2008 campaign, said that, “at every turn Hillary Clinton demonstrates that the advancement of the rights and opportunities for women and girls is central to who she is.

“This isn’t a side issue, this isn’t a one-off,” Sefl said. “As she says, this is ‘our great unfinished business.’”

Tags Barack Obama Hillary Clinton Mark Penn

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