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Election 2008: Grrrrl Power


Maybe it’s me but this presidential election, more than any I can remember, feels more centered around women’s voting preferences.
Some of this, of course, is due to female voters’ status as swing voters, more willing to cross party lines when they vote. So, at a time when Democrats’ policies and politics are aligned with the middle course of action on a number of fronts: Iraq (get out – in an orderly fashion), domestic issues (healthcare – now!) and a sustained feeling that a top-to-bottom Washington, D.C., housecleaning is in order, it seems likely that Democrats will be able to reclaim female voters as their core voting block.
Some of this interest is, of course, due to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s candidacy. But it’s reinforced by Elizabeth Edwards‘ decisions to announce that her breast cancer has advanced and to insist that her husband, John, stay in the presidential race.
But some of it’s also due to real, palpable desire for change and change now. It’s a convenient excuse to say that the presidential cycle has started early because primaries have moved up. It’s more accurate to say that enthusiasm for the presidential cycle has moved up because the current administration has done almost everything it’s attempted to do with an ineptitude and level of insouciant corruption that’s dismaying, even to party loyalists. That’s why Sen. Barack Obama’s crowds are so large and his funding – $25 million – deep. It’s why Hillary Rodham Clinton brought in $26 million in campaign financial support. Change ain’t blowing in the wind, it’s in your morning headlines.
Which takes us back to Elizabeth Edwards. Her decision to stay involved in her husband’s race for the White House triggers another change in how we see presidential candidates and public marriages. Of course, there’s the usual crowd of feminist scolds and Neaderthal conservatives who took time out from beating on Hillary. Edwards’ decision to stay in the race just goes to show how women’s needs are pushed aside by their husbands’ ambition, said one. Others have wondered about the Edwards’ children; the career girls in the press corps are wondering if she shouldn’t stay home to “protect” them. Still others – sigh – are going on about their possibly competing ambitions and how Elizabeth Edwards should be preparing to meet her maker by staying home.

Now, the Edwards’ – together – are ambitious. They’re also politically calculating. The announcement that Elizabeth Edwards has stage four – that’s incurable – cancer was the media event of a slow political week and the couple, who have steadily courted some of the smarter minds in the U.S. press corps, made the most of it. Deliberately. They scored a sweet 60 Minutes spot that served as a nice contrast – for those of you with long memories – to the Hillary and Bill Clinton session some 10 years ago where Hilllary famously dissed Tammy Wynette. The Edwards’ online follow-up to the interview and announcement of her illness’ status was well-executed: A score of notes thanking supporters for their kind words. Then another series urging supporters to donate to the campaign.
It’s all helped Edwards, increasingly seen until the announcement as an also-ran against Obama, get to temporarily earn second place in the funds race ($14 million) that kicked off with last week’s filing deadline. It got Edwards’ big points with female voters – look, he lets his wife talk! And she’s smart! And, for now, it’s put the phenomenon known as Barack Obama on a back burner.
The Republican candidates have certainly noticed the new climate. Sen. John McCain’s lack of appeal to women voters – he’s a guy’s guy and he’s backing the White House on the war in Iraq – is part of the reason he’s not gaining ground. Former Sen. Fred Thomson, star of a TV show that rates through the ceiling with smart, well educated women (Law and Order), is thinking about running. Mitt Romney – hey, he’s good-lookin’ and he can raise money ($21 million) – is also playing the wife illness card. And Rudy Guiliani is trying hard to play down his family disharmony, triggered in no small part by his nasty remarks about his second ex-wife, the mother of his estranged children.
So what’s it all mean? Well, it’s for sure a sign that women in politics are being taken more seriously. It’s also more bad news for Republicans.
But it’s not exactly a slam dunk victory for girl voters. Not by a long shot. Not until the day when those annoying “Will America?” stories – you know, “Will Americans Respect a Woman President?”, “Will Americans Respect Elizabeth Edwards’ Choice?” – are thought of as odd and out of place will I really think things have changed. That’s when you’ll see the political ambitions, considerations and concerns of women treated with the same respect as their male colleagues’. That’s not this election; but it’s one we’ll have soon.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 9:58 AM | Permalink

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