A fight for women’s man­date

With mar­quee aid, Clin­ton spot­lights gen­der is­sues

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By Cath­leen Decker

WIN­STON-SALEM, N.C. — In the clos­ing stretch of the pres­i­den­tial race, Hil­lary Clin­ton is try­ing to har­ness women’s anger over Don­ald Trump’s be­hav­ior into a surge of sup­port for her and other fe­male can­di­dates.

It’s an ef­fort that harks back to Demo­cratic vic­to­ries that stemmed from sim­i­lar con­tro­versy a quar­ter-cen­tury ago, in an elec­tion that be­came known as the “Year of the Woman.”

On Thurs­day, first lady Michelle Obama, the most pop­u­lar fig­ure on the na­tional stage, cam­paigned along­side Clin­ton in North Carolina. Two days ear­lier, Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren cam­paigned with Clin­ton in New Hamp­shire. Each de­liv­ered a “hear me roar” mes­sage prod­ding fe­male vot­ers to help Clin­ton de­feat Trump.

“We know the in­flu­ence our pres­i­dent has on our chil­dren,” Obama told thou­sands of sup­port­ers in Win­ston-Salem. “They are tak­ing it all in.… What kind of pres­i­dent do we want for them?”

Clin­ton, in­tro­duc­ing Obama, cast Nov. 8 as a ref­er­en­dum on Trump’s words and ac­tions.

“I wish I didn’t have to say this but, in­deed, dig­nity and re­spect for women and girls is also on the bal­lot this elec­tion,” she said.

Polls show women vot­ers sid­ing with Clin­ton by near­record lev­els in many key states, as sup­port for her and an­tipa­thy to­ward Trump merge to give her leads in most of the bat­tle­ground states where the Repub­li­can must win.

The move by women vot­ers to­ward Clin­ton in the fi­nal weeks of the cam­paign off­sets a sim­i­lar hard­en­ing of sup­port for Trump by blue col­lar, white men.

In a cam­paign fea­tur­ing the first woman pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee of a ma­jor party, gen­der was in­evitably go­ing to play a role.

The sur­prise is that what has su­per-charged gen­der’s role is not Clin­ton’s his­toric quest, but the na­ture of her op­po­nent, specif­i­cally, Trump’s vul­gar com­ments about women on a 2005 video and sub­se­quent al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault made against him.

The af­ter­shocks have not been lim­ited to cam­paign events, nor to Democrats. Prom­i­nent Repub­li­can women have ex­pressed anger at Trump and at their party for back­ing him.

On Wed­nes­day, in an ex­tra­or­di­nary sev­eral min­utes on Fox News, for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich an­grily ac­cused Megyn Kelly of be­ing “fas­ci­nated by sex” for ask­ing about the al­le­ga­tions against Trump.

“You know what, Mr. Speaker? I am not fas­ci­nated by sex,” Kelly said. “But I am fas­ci­nated by the pro­tec­tion of women and un­der­stand­ing what we’re get­ting in the Oval Of­fice.”

The swirl of gen­der is­sues in this cam­paign and the tone taken as elec­tion day nears echo the 1992 cam­paign. The suc­cess of wom­en­can­di­dates that year was pow­ered in large part by women mo­bi­lized by court de­ci­sions threat­en­ing abor­tion rights and the emo­tional fall­out from the 1991 ac­cu­sa­tions of ha­rass­ment lev­eled by law pro­fes­sor Anita Hill against then-Supreme Court nom­i­nee Clarence Thomas.

Thomas se­cured his seat on the court after a na­tional up­roar, but the sen­ti­ments un­leashed as sen­a­tors in­ter­ro­gated Hill on tele­vi­sion helped pro­pel record num­bers of women into U.S. Se­nate seats one year later.

Deb­bie Walsh, di­rec­tor of Rut­gers Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Women and Pol­i­tics, said Clin­ton was em­brac­ing the lat­est turn of events in the same way she had ear­lier turned Trump’s com­plaint that she was play­ing “the woman’s card” into a stump speech chant to “deal me in.”

“It’s re­ally tap­ping into some­thing deep for women,” she said.

In North Carolina, a tra­di­tion­ally Repub­li­can state where Clin­ton holds a nar­row lead over Trump, mes­sages to women dom­i­nate both sides’ cam­paign ads. In one Clin­ton ad, an Army vet­eran and life­long Repub­li­can with three daugh­ters talks about his anger at Trump’s com­ments. “I want my girls to grow up proud and strong,” he says. “Don­ald Trump’s Amer­ica is not the coun­try I fought for.”

Her op­po­nents, too, have women vot­ers in their sights. One ad paid for by a proTrump su­per PAC hits Clin­ton for do­na­tions her fam­ily foun­da­tion re­ceived from coun­tries that, among other things, don’t al­low women to drive and pun­ish rape vic- tims.

“How can we trust the Clin­tons to fight for us when they’ve sold out mil­lions of women al­ready?” the nar­ra­tor in the ad asks.

Yet it’s clear Trump has the big­ger prob­lem among women. A poll re­leased Thurs­day from the non­par­ti­san Pew Re­search Cen­ter found that only 38 per­cent of vot­ers said that Trump had even a “fair amount” of re­spect for women. And more than 4 in 10 women said he had “no re­spect” for them.

On Thurs­day, An­gela Mid­dle­ton sat out­side the Wake For­est Univer­sity arena after Clin­ton’s and Obama’s speeches, smil­ing as a light rain be­gan to fall.

“I look at the record, what she stands for: Equal­ity,” Mid­dle­ton said of Clin­ton. “She’s a fe­male. She un­der­stands the strug­gle, the fight. I mayno­ta­gree­with­all of her poli­cies, but I be­lieve in her abil­ity.”

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