Gen­der in­escapable at cam­paign’s close

Women in the spot­light as pres­i­den­tial race gets in­creas­ingly nasty

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Lerer

WASH­ING­TON >> Hil­lary Clin­ton is the coun­try’s most fa­mous work­ing mother.

For 40 years, she’s been at the cen­ter of count­less con­ver­sa­tions about gen­der and politics. Even her pantsuits have been de­bated for decades.

With her at the top of the Demo­cratic ticket, gen­der was al­ways go­ing to be an in­escapable part of the pres­i­den­tial race. Still, no one ex­pected this. In its fi­nal weeks, the 2016 cam­paign is awash in charges and coun­ter­charges of assault and grop­ing, sex­ist slurs and graphic lan­guage.

Sev­eral women have ac­cused Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump of sex­ual mis­con­duct and assault. The New York bil­lion­aire, mean­while, has ar­gued that Clin­ton “vi­ciously” “at­tacked” the women who said her hus­band, for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, com­mit­ted rape and sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety.

Trump sup­port­ers com­monly wear T-shirts with slo­gans such as “Hil­lary sucks but not like Mon­ica” and “Trump that Bitch.” At sev­eral Clin­ton ral­lies this past week, heck­lers in­ter­rupted her speeches with shouts of “Bill Clin­ton is a rapist.”

Trump ended the week by pan­tomim­ing the de­scrip­tions of his al­leged as­saults, mim­ick­ing paw­ing at a women’s chest and reach­ing un­der a skirt.

It’s an elec­tion, Clin­ton said, that “makes you want to un­plug the in­ter­net or just look at cat gifs.”

Her long­time sup­port­ers see the White House as nearly within their grasp. But the nasty tone of the con­test has tem­pered their joy at shat­ter­ing what Clin­ton once called the “highest and hard­est glass ceil­ing.”

“It dis­tracts from it

enor­mously. Who ever dreamt this would be the way this cam­paign would turn out,” said Cyn­thia Fried­man, who co­founded a Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee ef­fort to sup­port women in politics with some help from Clin­ton in 1993. “Watch­ing Hil­lary at the de­bate, I ac­tu­ally got al­most phys­i­cally sick to see some­body abused and spo­ken too so rudely to their face.”

Ad­vo­cates worry that Trump’s im­pact goes beyond Clin­ton, and po­ten­tially could undo decades of progress on is­sues such as sex­ism and sex­ual assault by nor­mal­iz­ing vi­o­lence against women.

“Would there have been sex­ist mud­sling­ing? Ab­so­lutely. But not like this,” said Nita Chaud­hary, a founder of the women’s ad­vo­cacy group Ul­tra­Vi­o­let. “We’ve made progress on rape cul­ture and on sex­ism in the last two years ago.

“It feels like the Trump can­di­dacy is un­do­ing all of

that.”

Some Repub­li­cans are equally dis­mayed, see­ing Trump as a force that will alien­ate women from their party for years to come as polls in­di­cate the po­lit­i­cal gen­der gap has reached his­toric lev­els.

This week­end, Clin­ton’s cam­paign is try­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on that di­vide, with events fo­cused on con­tact­ing fe­male vot­ers, in­clud­ing Repub­li­cans.

“If Don­ald Trump had set as his mis­sion the de­struc­tion of the Repub­li­can Party, it’s hard to imag­ine what he’d be do­ing dif­fer­ently,” said Sarah Is­gur Flores, a Repub­li­can strate­gist and for­mer deputy cam­paign man­ager to pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Carly Fio­r­ina.

“It will be an up­hill bat­tle to win back all of the vot­ers Trump is los­ing in this scorched earth cam­paign.”

From the mo­ment Clin­ton be­gan plot­ting her first run for pres­i­dent, her ad­vis­ers de­bated how she

should han­dle her gen­der. In 2008, Clin­ton largely ig­nored her his­tory-break­ing po­ten­tial and fo­cused on her ex­pe­ri­ence, con­cerned about re­search show­ing re­sis­tance among vot­ers to a fe­male pres­i­dent.

More than a year be­fore she of­fi­cially an­nounced her sec­ond run, Clin­ton’s fu­ture cam­paign man­ager Robby Mook wrote in an email, “Run­ning on her gen­der would be the SAME mis­take as 2008, ie hav­ing a mes­sage at odds with what vot­ers ul­ti­mately want.

In­ject­ing gen­der makes her can­di­dacy about HER and not the vot­ers and mak­ing their lives bet­ter.”

Replied fu­ture cam­paign chair­man John Podesta, “Gen­der will be a field and vol­un­teer mo­ti­vate but won’t close the deal.”

Podesta and Mook dis­cussed the mat­ter in a 2014 email ex­change made pub­lic this past week by the Wik­iLeaks or­ga­ni­za­tion fol­low­ing the hack of Podesta’s emails. Clin­ton’s

cam­paign has blamed the hack on Rus­sia.

Clin­ton’s gen­der did be­come a part of her 2016 cam­paign mes­sage, with ref­er­ences to her roles as a mother and grand­mother be­com­ing a main­stay of her stump speech.

“I re­al­ize I might not be the youngest can­di­date in this race,” she’d of­ten say dur­ing her pri­mary cam­paign. “But with your help, I will be the youngest woman pres­i­dent.”

That mes­sage has been largely re­placed by a broader pledge to be a pres­i­dent for all Amer­i­cans, even those who do not sup­port her can­di­dacy. Aware of Clin­ton’s own un­pop­u­lar­ity, her cam­paign is fo­cused on giv­ing vot­ers a rea­son to back her, fo­cus­ing on her poli­cies and cre­den­tials.

“It’s been a high wire act for some time,” said Ann Lewis, a long­time Clin­ton ad­viser. “You have to deal with what’s hap­pen­ing, but this can’t take over the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.”

While Clin­ton may be able to ig­nore Trump’s taunts, vot­ers have not. The neg­a­tive tone of the cam­paign has ex­as­per­ated deep na­tional di­vides, prompt­ing anx­i­ety across po­lit­i­cal lines about how Clin­ton and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans can unite the coun­try should she win the White House.

“I don’t know how long it’s go­ing to take us to re­cover from this,” said Mary Deut­meyer, 70, a re­tired teacher from Iowa who cast her bal­lot early for Clin­ton on Wed­nes­day. “It’s al­most like walk­ing in the gut­ter.”

That’s not a con­cern to Trump sup­port­ers such as Shelli Si­mon­tac­chi, who at­tended a Trump rally Fri­day night in North Carolina. She stressed she didn’t con­done or even like Trump’s lan­guage about women, but ar­gued there are “big­ger is­sues at stake.”

“It doesn’t mean you’re against women if you vote for Trump,” she said.

FRANK FRANKLIN II — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sup­port­ers of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton gather be­fore a pres­i­den­tial de­bate be­tween her and Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump at Hof­s­tra Uni­ver­sity in Hemp­stead.

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