A fight for women’s mandate
With marquee aid, Clinton spotlights gender issues
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.”