Hillary Clinton has a not-so-secret weapon working for her as she
seeks the presidency: women.
Just 12 days into her campaign, the New York senator and former
first lady has made it clear that appealing to female voters will be
central to her message, and not the afterthought it has been in past
presidential campaigns. Already, her campaign says, young women in
particular are drawn to her candidacy and the prospect of electing
America's first woman president. Officials with the Clinton campaign
cite anecdotal evidence from supporters and from the turnout of
women at early campaign events.
Single women, now 51 percent of the female adult population, also
represent a key demographic to the Clinton campaign. Her campaign
plans appeals aimed directly at their concerns - including
healthcare, retirement, and education - to boost turnout among a
demographic that has been less likely to vote than other groups.
Overall, "54 percent of the electorate in 2004 were women; I
think potentially that could go up in 2008," says Ann Lewis, a
senior adviser to the Clinton campaign.
Already, polls show higher percentages of women supporting
Senator Clinton than the male candidates in both the race for the
Democratic nomination and in general election matchups. But history
has shown that women's votes alone, long key to Democrats' electoral
chances, cannot win elections for Democrats. So the question is
whether, in running a campaign highly attuned to women, Clinton can
avoid alienating men.
"She has to balance it out," says Debbie Walsh, director of the
Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Part of the balancing act involves efforts by her campaign to
warm up her image, which some voters find cold and calculating. The
setting for the Jan. 20 Web video announcement of her exploratory
committee was a living room, not an office. She calls her campaign a
"conversation," she has "chats," she "listens." She used the same
approach in her 2000 Senate campaign, successfully, but the
challenge now is to carry that out on a national scale - with an
electorate that has seen her in action for 15 years and feels it
already knows her.
Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" served up a string of jokes this
week around Clinton's campaign slogan, "Let the Conversation Begin."
"Look, this might not be the most politically correct thing to say,
but I don't think that slogan's gonna help you with men," he began,
to big studio-audience laughter.
Another part of the calculus for Clinton is that she is running
to become commander in chief during wartime. …