DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — With her jewel-toned jackets, supportive first gentleman and campaign trail chitchat about grandkids and yoga, Hillary Clinton gives leadership a different look.
As the first woman nominated for president by a major U.S. political party, Clinton was feted at the Democratic National Convention last week for shattering a political glass ceiling. Since entering the race, she has put policies affecting women and families at the center of her campaign. She has appeared with grieving mothers, female celebrities and other ground-breaking elected officials.
But Clinton’s influence on how voters look upon the race stretches beyond policy and campaign tactics. She is redefining how an American leader dresses, talks — and even relaxes.
“She is still the other in our definition for what candidates for this office are like,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “Women can do this and we can have a presidential candidate whose hobbies are gardening, yoga and reading novels.”
Other countries have long accepted women in top jobs — Margaret Thatcher served as the United Kingdom’s prime minister in the 1980s, Golda Meir was elected prime minister of Israel in 1969 and Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Germany for over a decade.
But while women have served as governors and senators in the United States, seeing a woman reach the final stage of the race for the White House is something new.
“I don’t think any of us are entirely certain what this is going to look like because this has never happened before,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, a Democratic group that backs female candidates who support abortion rights. “I think it is a widening of what Americans see as leadership and that is why it is important.”
Compared to her 2008 presidential bid, during which she played down her gender, Clinton has been far more comfortable this time embracing her history-making campaign. At the Democratic convention, Clinton appeared in a video in which she told little girls that while she may “become the first woman president, one of you is next.”
Clinton’s trailblazing comes in a year where she faces off against a candidate who has faced intense criticism for how he speaks about women. Republican nominee Donald Trump has accused her of playing “the woman card.” But in some ways, Walsh said, the two have switched traditional roles.
“It’s always the man who’s the calm steady hand,” Walsh said. “What you’re seeing here is this kind of gender flip, he’s the erratic one. She is the one that is (saying), `I am the steady hand.”‘
President Barack Obama helped widen the perception of the office as the first president who was not a white male. A famous photo from 2012 shows a young African-American boy touching Obama’s head to see if the president’s hair felt like his.
The fact that a woman topped the Democratic ticket was abundantly evident at last week’s convention, where female speakers packed the program each night and former President Bill Clinton played a supporting role, giving a traditional spouse speech about his wife.
Schriock noted that not long ago, women would be featured on a single night of the four-day event. “How quaint that sounds now,” she said.
Clinton has been in the public eye for decades and still struggles to win people over. Polls consistently find that many Americans do not trust her and do not believe she is honest. In May, New York Times columnist David Brooks suggested that one issue for Clinton was the public’s lack of familiarity with her hobbies. But Walsh said that Clinton may also be contending with the fact that the very definition of presidential leisure time is “all male.”
Obama has turned to golf or basketball to blow off steam, Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed big-game hunting, John F. Kennedy loved sailing and Lyndon Johnson collected cars. During her down moments, Clinton prefers a good book. Clinton told New York magazine months ago that she had become addicted to mystery novels: “I like a lot of women authors, novels about women, mysteries where a woman is the protagonist. . It’s relaxing.”
Friend and donor Susie Tompkins Buell said Clinton also enjoys walking and “she loves her garden and she adores her grandkids.” Clinton’s daughter Chelsea Clinton has two children — Charlotte, who is nearly two, and Aidan, born in June. Clinton tries to video chat with them as much as possible.
In his rousing affirmation of Clinton at the convention, Obama alluded to the additional hurdles women must jump over compared to men as he spoke about their 2008 primary battle.
Invoking a phrase used about onscreen dance partners Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Obama said, “She was doing everything I was doing, but just like Ginger Rogers, it was backwards in heels.”
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