Clinton took one giant leap for womankind

BAY, Mo. — Hillary Clinton probably has made life easier for the next major female presidential candidate.

"Now that she's done it, it's more likely someone else can, too," said Ellen Dillon, 49, a Cape Girardeau, Mo., communications instructor.

The next woman's path, however, still will have some familiar ruts, said Jeanette Sage, 58, a nurse from Bay, Mo., just west of St. Louis. "When push comes to shove," she said, "a lot of men do not want a woman president."

Exit polls found that Clinton, 60, won handily among women over 50, women who began their adult lives in the late 1960s and 1970s, a time when they struggled to gain equality in the workplace.

They empathized strongly with the difficulties that Clinton faced as a young lawyer during that era, and they saw her as both a symbol of their own history and someone who uniquely understood them. And they'll probably be there for the next woman who mounts a serious White House bid.

"For the first time, we're seeing a woman break an important glass ceiling," said Brenda Woemmel, 63, a retired Cape Girardeau history teacher. "She's been an excellent spokesperson for us."

Clinton's experience should smooth the way for the next woman who runs for at least one reason: She no longer will be a novelty.

"She's taken the next big step for women and the presidency," said Susan Carroll, a professor of political science and women's and gender studies at Rutgers University.

When Clinton announced her candidacy in January 2007, the New York Democratic senator had a unique and difficult task: defining what a female president looks and sounds like, since there's no template.

"People said a woman may not be tough enough. She was tough enough. They said she can't raise money or talk about foreign affairs. She did," said former U.S. Rep. Barbara Kennelly, D-Conn.

Clinton also built a strong coalition of women. When it looked as if her support among that constituency could be slipping this spring, the campaign quietly mobilized small groups to meet with women in their homes. At the meetings, Clinton backers talked about her personal history, as well as her views.

In those days just before the Pennsylvania primary April 22, Clinton also took opportunities to bond with female voters.

"I'm with Harry Truman on this: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Just speaking for myself, I'm very comfortable in the kitchen," she joked to one suburban Philadelphia crowd.

In Indiana two weeks later, she appeared onstage with her mother, Dorothy Rodham, and her daughter, Chelsea, in comfortable chairs and pointed out that her mother was born before women could vote.

The strategy seemed to work, since she continued to do well with white women.

Experts, though, add a footnote to the Clinton legacy: She may not have set an easy standard for the next female presidential candidate.

Clinton has been a well-known public figure for 16 years, had an ability to raise money that few men or women in politics had and began the race as a strong front-runner, as well as someone with unusually high negatives.

"While Clinton had advantages, owing to the fact she's a Clinton, she also had baggage," said Darrell West, a professor of politics at Brown University in Providence, R.I.. "But I don't think the baggage was enough that other women wouldn't be encouraged if they wanted to run."

The campaign also exposed some problems that any woman, Clinton or not, is likely to face in the near future.

Clinton took pains to portray herself as the candidate of experience, even though she's served only seven and a half years in the Senate, four more than Barack Obama has.

Carroll understood why, saying, "People still tend to see men as experienced, even if they're not."

Clinton also was still subject to often vicious barbs and worse because of her gender.

Vendors offered T-shirts proclaiming "Life's a bitch, so don't vote for one," with pictures of Clinton on them, or the 9-inch-tall "Hillary Clinton Nutcracker With Stainless Steel Thighs."

While a lot of women think that Clinton has moved them an important step closer to the White House and equality, they also warn that the battle of the sexes isn't over.

"There's still a lot of misogyny out there," Sage said.

The next woman who runs may find it somewhat diminished, though. "She has put certain questions to rest," Carroll said. "Whether a woman can be tough enough won't be an issue in quite the same way again."