For Some Clinton Supporters, Sexism Is the Only Explanation

Many women's hopes are tied to Clinton going the distance.


May 20, 2008 — -- As Sen. Hillary Clinton has raced toward the end of what appears to be a losing bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, she has voiced what her most fervent supports have been saying -- her campaign has been dissed and damaged by people "who are nothing but misogynists."

In unusually blunt comments, Clinton told the Washington Post that sexism has played a larger role in the campaign than racism and that it has cost her and her supporters.

"It's been deeply offensive to millions of women. I believe this campaign has been a groundbreaker in a lot of ways," Clinton said. "But it certainly has been challenging given some of the attitudes in the press."

Clinton, the first woman to make a serious bid for a major party's presidential nomination, said she did not think that racism was a factor in her bruising battle with Sen. Barack Obama.

Instead, she said, "The manifestation of some of the sexism that has gone on in this campaign is somehow more respectable, or at least more accepted."

She added, "It does seem as though the press at least is not as bothered by the incredible vitriol that has been engendered by the comments by people who are nothing but misogynists."

Clinton is expected to easily win the Kentucky Democratic primary today, but lose to Obama in Oregon. A split would give Obama a majority of delegates, but Clinton is showing no inclination to quit the race.

Her campaign aides told ABC News that she intends to keep campaigning through the final primary on June 3. Clinton also took a shot at Obama for acting as if he has already won and not even campaigning in Kentucky.

"You know, the last thing we need is somebody who gives up and quits as our next president," she told supporters Monday.

Many women are as determined as Clinton that the campaign continue. "NOT SO FAST" reads the headline in a full-page ad in The New York Times paid for by the WomenCount PAC.

The ad begins, "We are the women of this nation …" and says that there should not be pressure for Clinton to concede already. "As this indefatigable woman campaigns, she speaks with our voice," the ad claims.

ABC News political contributor Cokie Roberts said she sees the phenomenon in Kentucky, where voting is under way.

"In Kentucky, women voters, one after another are saying, why are people pushing her? Why are they saying sit down and shut up? And there's a lot of resentment about that. A lot of those women had the same thing happen to them."

ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd, however, said he believed it was Clinton's message that hurt her campaign.

"I tell people that I think the country was ready for a mom, but she kept giving the country a dad," Dowd said.

Clinton's comments in the Washington Post echo what many of her supporters have bitterly complained about as the long Democratic battle has neared an end -- that she is treated differently because she's a woman and if she eventually loses, it will be because of her gender.

Clinton, they charge, has been criticized for things that a male candidate would never take heat for -- her appearance, her emotions, her spouse's sex life.

And many of her female supporters worry that their chance to see a woman elected U.S. president ends with Clinton.

Many older women who supported feminism as young women, and encountered resistance and frustration as they broke through barriers, saw Clinton's rise to the race for the White House as an important symbolic breakthrough for women. Now, with Clinton's defeat seemingly near, some see the echoes of that resistance and frustration of earlier battles and some are even turning their ire toward Obama.

"Women are just apoplectic about the sexism that has come out in course of the campaign," said Cynthia Ruccia, spokeswoman for Clinton Supporters Count Too, a women's group threatening to boycott the election and abandon the Democratic Party.

While Ruccia and members of her group, made up of women from Ohio, Pennsylvania and other swing states, believe Clinton remains very much in the race, they are preparing for an Obama nomination.

"If Hillary Clinton is not the nominee, we will not support the nominee," she said.

Interest in this year's election from younger voters may make for good headlines, Ruccia said, but it is middle-age women who are the "party regulars [that] stuff envelopes and put out lawn signs."

"Young people don't understand how far we've come and how hard we've worked to get here. They can't see what it took for us to ensure that Clinton would have a chance at the White House. We have been out there fighting these fights and we've made progress. But as soon as she started running, all this sexist garbage comes out," she said

Ruccia pointed to examples of pervasive sexism in the media by citing the remarks from three members of the media: Chris Matthews ("the reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner, is that her husband messed around"); Mike Barnicle ("when she reacts the way she reacts to Obama with just the look, the look toward him, looking like everyone's first wife standing outside a probate court"); and David Shuster (Clinton "pimped out" her daughter, Chelsea, by having her call superdelegates.)

But some say the unkindest cut of the entire campaign came not from commenters, the Obama camp or even Republicans, but the abortion-rights group NARAL.

In an unexpected, and some say unnecessary, move, NARAL Pro-Choice America officially announced its support of Obama last week, just three days after he swept the North Carolina primary, picking up a significant number of delegates.

"For many feminists, NARAL's decision seemed like a real defection. There was no reason for them to make a statement like that when they did," said Vicky Lovell, director of the employment program at the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Both Ruccia and Lovell said the endorsement irked many women, and served as a point around which Clinton could rally many of her faithful.

Her supporters are adamant, as is she, that she continue to campaign until all the states have held their primaries and all the votes are counted.

Clinton continues to press on, arguing that delegates from Michigan and Florida should be counted, despite the decision by the Democratic Party to boycott primaries in those states after those states moved up their elections in the calendar against party wishes.

"This is the United States and she should absolutely have the right to go ahead," said Linda Seditsky, a retired teacher from Queens, N.Y., who supports Clinton. "It is ridiculous the way people have talked about her looks or her clothes. No one ever talks about McCain being bald. There is this negativity around her and a lot of it comes from the media, writing her off and saying she doesn't have a chance."

In an ABC News-Washington Post poll, nearly a quarter of Clinton supporters said if she loses, they will vote for Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona over Obama.

For now, however, polling data indicate female Clinton supporters are no more likely to vote for McCain over Obama than male supporters.

"I'm torn. I don't know what I'm going to do," said Seditsky. "I don't want to vote for McCain, but I would find it very difficult to vote for Obama."

Lovell said Clinton's defeat would not spell a defeat for feminism or a future female presidential candidate.

"Women will always have to work harder than men to prove their competence. A man would never be subjected to the same treatment," she said. "It will be hugely disappointing to many women if Clinton is unable to go the distance. But there are plenty of very strong women in public office and other venues who will pick up the torch. Without a doubt, a woman will be president."