Can Clinton's Emotions Get the Best of Her?

"It's very hard to find the balance between appearing strong and tough and caring and engaged and then crossing your line to where you'll be labeled shrill and bitchy," said Owen. "As far as being a female candidate, she's open to different descriptive adjectives — things like melting down or being too emotional — that you would not hear as much in terms of male candidates."

"I'm sure the calculation said you've got to go hard and attack and appear as thought you're really taking this seriously," said Owen. "But she lost her cool."

And as to Clinton's latest emotional episode, Owen is more confident that her composure — or lack thereof — is a sign of her campaign's unraveling.

"Crying in a campaign at this stage is something you can't do — male or female — and history has shown that," said Owen. "It shows people weakness — crying goes against both male and female stereotypes, neither can do it."

Becoming too emotional might very well be a detriment to her campaign, though some observers say her performance in New Hampshire didn't cross the line.

"I don't think she's gone overboard yet; the way she took on Obama was necessary," said Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. "But now she can't just go on the attack and become too vicious because then she undermines what she's been campaigning for."

Clinton's appeareance today in which she fought back tears is different than being on the defensive, said Zelizer. "Crying tradition isn't great for candidates and it's not something usually that voters want to see and so it might be a little setback. But again, I don't think it's the kind of thing voters will ultimately weigh when they vote."

Of more concern, Zelizer added, is the overall appearance of the Clinton campaign since her loss in Iowa.

"Losing in Iowa and being on the defensive in the debate and now getting teary-eyed leads to a cumulative image that's not particular strong up front and it's not great," said Zelizer. "It creates nervousness [in voters] about your ability to keep control in situations."

Clinton's Composure to Affect Voters

Those voters who take Clinton's response in New Hampshire as too emotional, and her teary moment today as weak, may very well turn toward other candidates.

"[Her response in New Hampshire] was damaging and a lost opportunity," said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion poll, which predicts Obama will be the winner of the New Hampshire Democratic primary. "Whether she would have won the primary had that not happened who knows, but it certainly didn't do her any good."

According to the poll, 42 percent of likely Democratic presidential primary voters think Obama is the most electable, compared with the 34 percent who prefer Clinton.

How voters weigh Clinton's composure may not differ between genders, according to Georgetown's Owens.

"Male voters are basically going to see a hysterical woman," said Owens. "Women are going to think that if Clinton is going to take on this responsible role and represent women in such a visible way she should do a better job of it and not expose the gender to this criticism."

And her display of emotion may not even be the chief concern for many voters, added Zelizer.

"It's not clear that this will turn off voters," Zelizer told "I think her becoming more aggressive may actually undermine support for Obama."

"And for male voters who already supported her, I don't think it's the debate or the comments that will turn them," said Zelizer. "The fact that she can lose [like she did in Iowa] will bother any male or female supporter."

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...